Jim Henderson is at quite a loose end when he receives an invitation from Edwin Carson to Thrackley for a weekend party. While having no recollection of this gentleman, Jim does know a free weekend is nothing to scoff at. Rounding out the guest list are Jim’s friend the Honourable Freddie Usher, siblings Marilyn and Henry Brampton, Catherine Lady Stone, and Argentinian dancer Raoul. The funny thing is that these guests all have something in common, they have jewels, and Mr. Carson is an expert in precious stones. So other than the fact that he claims to have been a friend of Jim’s father prior to his death, why does Carson need Jim there? As per friend Freddie, there’s a lovely daughter in the offing. Say no more. But, what starts out as a merely a “ghastly weekend, with long walks and tapioca pudding…” soon turns deadly, and Jim discovers that Freddie’s description of Carson as a “rum bird” is an understatement at best.
What follows is quite delightful, and made for a very fun read. Written with smooth, leisurely pacing, and clever dialogue – with much witty repartee. There’s not much mystery, we know who the villain is, and what he wants, well mostly. This is more of a thriller with a plot filled with burglary, secrets rooms, some intrigue, vanishing guests, a little light romance, and several fairly good twists.
What I found was that it was the characterizations, aided by Melville’s ability to condense everything we need to know about a character in a line or a paragraph, which really made the book for me. In one short passage we learn that our hero Jim is a thirty-four year-old aspiring author, jobless, with no family, has no prospects, but has charm, intelligence, and wit. Other characters are just as smoothly dealt with. Mrs. Bertram is “a large and benevolent soul…who talked a great deal more than was necessary and who read the newspapers rather more than was good for her.” And the most unpleasant looking butler, Jacobson, “contorted his face into what, in another set of features, might have been recognized as a smile.” You get where I’m going don’t you?
So, it you are interested in a light-hearted thriller with a great deal of sardonic wit, this is a book you will want to read, and one that I highly recommend.
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