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Christmas Stories: Angel Unawares

December 19, 2017

I wasn’t sure I was going to manage any Christmas stories this year, but here’s one, at least: Angel Unawares, by Alice Williamson with, I presume, very little help from Charlie. Based on this and the one other Williamsons Christmas story I’ve read, they like spending their Christmases in the South of France.

The story takes place over the course of a single Christmas Eve (the Unity of Christmastimes!) mid-World War I. Dick Odell is doing something at the American Embassy in Paris, and sends his wife Elinor and daughter Angel to Mentone to remove them from danger. Angel wanders off while her governess is distracted, and finds herself in the garden of the Valois family, where she plays with a kitten and overhears some tedious exposition about the state of the Valois finances (not good). Angel decides to help them out, and when her mother disapproves of her first plan, she comes up with a second one.

Angel Unawares has its moments, but they don’t add up to anything particularly good. What ought to be the most exciting part of the story is the most boring, and what ought to be the most affecting passes too quickly. I liked Angel and her mother, but I wanted more from and for them.

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Peter Ruff and The Double Four

December 18, 2017

I’m not going to write about all my recent E. Phillips Oppenheim reads–I’ve read about twenty of his books over the past month and a half, and that’s too many. But the more I read, the better a handle I get on him, and I’m finding most of his short story characters really enjoyable.

The Double Four seems to have been published before Peter Ruff, but Peter Ruff comes first chronologically. (You can find the two volumes in one here. I thought it was going to be a third Peter Ruff book, and was disappointed.) Peter is a nice young master criminal who falls in love with a young woman without anything in particular to recommend her. He’s trying to settle into a dull, middle-class lifestyle (to correspond with hers) when the police catch up with him and he has to leave his identity behind and create a new one.  Read the rest of this entry »

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Some E. Phillips Oppenheim Stories

December 4, 2017

I’ve made the extremely belated discovery that E. Phillips Oppenheim’s short story collections are more fun than his novels. (With a few exceptions; you can pry The Great Impersonation from my cold, dead hands.) So, that’s mostly what I’ve been reading. Here’s a roundup of some of them. Read the rest of this entry »

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Ask Miss Mott

November 1, 2017

When I say I kept forgetting Ask Miss Mott was by E. Phillips Oppenheim and not Edgar Wallace, it’s a compliment. There are things that point towards Oppenheim: a lack of humor, an uglier snobbishness,  a brand of racism that’s slightly different from Wallace’s. But the world feels like it belongs to Wallace, with its melodramatic gangs of master criminals, its gallant Scotland Yard official and its intrepid girl detective. The style is Oppenheim, but the substance is mostly Wallace, and that has immediately vaulted Ask Miss Mott into second place on my list of favorite Oppenheim books. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Perfume of Eros: a Fifth Avenue Incident

October 30, 2017

I kept stopping in the middle of Edgar Saltus’ The Perfume of Eros: A Fifth Avenue Incident and asking, “what is this?” I don’t know if I have an answer. The story is contrived. The characters are no more than moderately sympathetic. The point of view is cynical. The prose is kind of delightful.

Royal Loftus is a rich and attractive young man, who seems sort of interested in the beautiful Fanny Price. She definitely likes him, but she would like him to a) show more interest in her and b) stop trying to pick up other girls on the street. Instead, Loftus pays even less attention to Fanny and tricks Marie Durand, the girl she saw him with, into becoming his mistress. Read the rest of this entry »

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Uncanny Tales

October 17, 2017

I’m a bad audience for scary stories, and I know it. First, I don’t usually buy into them, and second, the scarier I find them the less likely I am to enjoy them. Fortunately Mrs. Molesworth’s Uncanny Tales aren’t particularly uncanny.

The first of the stories, “The Shadow in the Moonlight,” was my favorite. It features a shadowy presence that travels around the walls of a room, and it is genuinely creepy, but not so creepy that it scared me. I did wonder at times if the family being haunted was so large because they needed more people to independently confirm the haunting, but if it was, I wasn’t bothered: I liked them. It’s easy to figure out where the ghost is coming from, but what it’s doing and how they get rid of it are clever and cool.

The only other proper ghost story in the book is astonishingly boring and pointless, and I didn’t care about the possible ghost and definite industrial espionage one, either. The others are…fine, I guess. I liked, in a lukewarm way, the one about a young man who breaks his engagement and refuses to tell anyone why, but mostly everything is just sadness and coincidences. The last story in the book appears in my notes only as “insufficiently creepy clock.”

Am I purposely going for the Molesworth books I think I’m less likely to enjoy? Well, yes.

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The Cuckoo Clock

October 16, 2017

The Cuckoo Clock is another Mrs. Molesworth, and my first experience with her more fanciful stories. I gather that this is one of her most famous books, but I’m not that into it.

The protagonist is Griselda, a young girl who has been sent by her family in India to live with two elderly aunts. The house is cool, and her aunts are kind, but it’s a cold and dreary winter and she has no one to play with. Then she starts talking to a cuckoo that lives in a cuckoo clock that belonged to her grandmother. The cuckoo is probably really alive — not just in a dream, or her imagination — and he takes her on a series of adventures to places that don’t exist, like a version of China populated by dolls. Griselda is a little inclined to grumble, and the cuckoo is condescending, but they do seem sort of fond of each other.

Honestly, in spite of all the things that happen to Griselda, it feels kind of mundane. She goes places and looks at stuff, but nothing really happens, and she doesn’t talk to anyone. Interaction may be why the real world bits are more fun than the imaginary stuff, even though not much happens in the real world, either.

It’s kind of weird, how I’ve immediately gone from avoiding Mrs. Molesworth to cutting her a lot of slack, but that seems to be what’s happening. I don’t really care about this book, but I didn’t not like it, and even when I don’t like her, I think she’s really good.