Twice Dead by E.M. Channon ~ 1930. This edition: Greyladies Press, 2010. Foreword by Hilary Clare. Softcover. ISBN: 978-1-907503-04-7. 229 pages.
My rating: 6ish/10
After my recent enjoyment of Channon’s mathematical romance Little G, I thought it worth taking a gamble on one of her several mystery novels, and yesterday brought me Twice Dead, courtesy of the nicely efficient Royal Mail, which, in combination with our very own Canada Post, makes book delivery from Great Britain lightning fast.
A quick read it was, and reasonably diverting, though I must confess I fell asleep over it while reading in the bath last night.
Now this was only partly the fault of the book. Some of the blame must rest with the physical and mental exhaustion which is the norm for me this busiest time of year, as I scramble to stay on top of my numerous self-inflicted commitments.
Plain old tiredness combined with a tubful of warm water and the white noise of the little electric heater which we use to make our very cold bathroom reasonably fit for lingering in (not to mention the warm air wafting from it) knocked me out, and I woke with a start to a lukewarm tub and a slightly damp novel, for though it never actually got submerged (close thing, though!) it managed to wick up a bit of dampness while I was comatose.
But the book must take some of the responsibility for its almost-soggy state. It’s not the most stirring of reads.
In fact, don’t think I have ever read such a offhandedly casual sort of murder mystery, for all of its darkly passionate goings-on. Dirty deeds are done by heroes and villains both, and shrugs all round seems to be the pattern for official repercussions!
And everyone with such tremendous collections of secrets! My goodness. Complicated lives, these fictional folk lead.
Rich girl Sylvia, sweet-natured and lovely, has several men a-wooing her, but the one she secretly loves is (as far as she knows – heaven forbid she ask the man) affianced to another, so she kind-of-accidentally accepts a proposal from one of the second string, to her immediate regret.
For slightly effeminate Philip – his lack of manliness obviously inherited from his Italian mother – is only superficially charming. On closer acquaintance he’s a bit of a sissy, as far as personal discomfort goes, though he’s virile enough in his secretive pursuit of willing women, including, with tragic repercussions, Sylvia’s delicately lovely but morally corrupt cousin Anne.
A disguised fortune-teller has recently informed Philip that he is heading for a bad end – he will end up “twice dead” – but he shrugs it off, once he discovers that the soothsayer in question is someone well-known to him from his shady past. He thinks she’s just telling him tales as a sort of twisted revenge for how he wronged her.
She’s right, though. He’s doomed.
All the wrong people get the blame for Philip’s demise – or do they? What dark deeds were done in the shabby bedroom of the dingy little inn where Philip lay trapped with a broken leg?
Will the brilliant young village doctor be found guilty of Philip’s death in a court of law as well as the damning court of public opinion? And/or for the death of the mysterious fortune-teller, which follows closely after?
Will Sylvia’s secret flame come round to her sterling qualities, now that her Big Mistake is dead and gone? Or is he (Mr True Love) really going to marry his dynamically attractive cousin instead?
Why is Anne walking and talking in her sleep, all Lady Macbeth-like?
And what is the secret of the Chinese ink brush in the doctor’s curio cabinet?
All this, and more, in this crowded mystery-romance. Utterly period piece, with just enough witty exchanges and charming moments to rescue it from its otherwise ho-hum-ishness as a puzzle novel.
I’d definitely read more E.M. Channon, of any of her several genres, on the feeble strength of this one, and of the infinitely better Little G, but I won’t go so far as to recommend Twice Dead to the rest of you.
Give it a try, for sure, but keep your expectations modest.
(And don’t read it in the tub!)