Archive for the ‘Velda Johnston’ Category

The Girl on the Beach by Velda Johnston ~ 1987. This edition: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1987. Hardcover. ISBN: 0-396-09190-3. 189 pages.

My rating: 4/10

A few days ago I reviewed an earlier Velda Johnston book, A Room with Dark Mirrors (1975), which I had mildly enjoyed, enough so that I did a library search for more of Johnston’s titles on the odd chance that I’d find a few. There were two books listed, the one I’m looking at right now – 1987’s The Girl on the Beach – and a 1968 title, House Above Hollywood, which I was unable to locate on the shelf.

I hate to pan any book, because I realize that literary tastes differ wildly and something I find marvelous the next person might shudder at, but, sadly, this second Velda Johnston was deeply disappointing. Formulaic, poorly worded, with nothing like the narrative flow of Dark Mirrors. Dark Mirrors was hardly high literature, but it was an easy, pleasant read. Girl on the Beach was painful to finish. I kept waiting for it to get better, but it quite simply didn’t.

New York advertising artist Kate Killigrew comes to an ocean-side house on a North Carolina island to recover from a car accident and the break-up of her engagement. Her first night there, she wakes in the wee hours and sees a beautiful young woman wandering on the beach and staring at the house; Kate finds this a bit unusual but shrugs it off. The next day a good-looking and obviously troubled young man shows up; he too stares at the house in a strange manner before he realizes Kate has seen him and comes to the door with the explanation that he once lived there.

Turns out that the young woman of the night before is the sister of the murdered wife of the man. The murder took place twelve years earlier, in that very beach house; the man, Martin Donnerly, had been convicted of the crime, and has just finished his prison sentence and returned to the island; the sister has been mentally unbalanced since birth and wanders at will, hence her rambles after midnight.

Of course Kate and Martin fall in love. Due to some inner intuition (wishful thinking?!)Kate insists that Martin could not have murdered Donna Sue (the dead wife); she is sure that Donna Sue’s twin Darleen Mae holds the key to the mystery. Oh yes, there’s a twelve-year-old armoured car robbery mystery intertwined as well, with $50,ooo in missing money floating around somewhere. Might there be a connection? Maybe. Or maybe not. A few red herrings listlessly flop about muddling the plot line.

Various locals with various issues have an abiding interest in the matter; Kate runs afoul of almost all of them, before the “dramatic” conclusion of a violent altercation with the most unexpected of the locals and his predictable “dying breath” confession.

This book is so badly worked out that it seems almost like a parody of the romantic-suspense novel genre. Velda must have been having a bad case of writer’s block when she penned this car wreck. I’ll somewhat forgive her, as I just did the math and realized she was seventy-five when this was published; she might merely have been getting tired of turning these “suspense novels” out at the rate of one (or more) a year since the 1960s, and  rattled this one off in a hurry.

I may give Velda Johnston one more chance, if I can easily get my hands on House Above Hollywood on my next library run, otherwise she’s probably going to be crossed off my list of possibles to search out to add to my mom’s reading list. I wouldn’t cross the street for this one, though the earlier novel showed some promise.

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A Room with Dark Mirrors by Velda Johnston ~ 1975. This edition: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1975. Hardcover. 184 pages.

My rating: 5.5/10.

*****

I’m always on the lookout for light reading for my elderly, housebound mother; books are one of her last remaining pleasures after a very full and creative life now curtailed by painful and crippling severe osteoporosis and arthritis.

Always a voracious reader, she prefers well-written, intelligent, but not necessarily “deep” books; she readily acknowledges many of her stand-bys to be leaning towards “fluff”, but she does prefer them to be high-quality and mentally engaging fluff. With this recent thrift-store pick-up, I may have tapped into a new “Mom’s author” to keep an eye out for in my rambles.

Velda Johnston (1911-1997) was a prolific American writer of romantic-suspense and light-gothic novels. Doing a bit of internet research on her background, I find her listed as the author of 36 novels dating from 1968 to 1991. If this is correct, Velda Johnston’s published writing career spanned from her fifty-seventh to her eightieth year, leaving me a little curious about her full history and her earlier life.

I was able to find only a few random comments on several of Johnston’s other titles, but the general tone is that they are well-written and surprisingly literary and intelligent for the genre. My experience with Dark Mirrors would bear this out.

The story flowed beautifully and was much more engaging than I had expected from my initial page-through, though the plot was rather predictable, despite Dark Mirrors’ prominent billing as a “novel of suspense.”

Dorothy Lang is a recently divorced stewardess who keeps running into her regretful and apologetic ex-husband Eric on her flights. He hopes to reunite, though Dorothy has a very legitimate reason to refuse his continual offers of reconciliation. This trip, they find themselves bound for the same area of Paris, where Eric has been posted on an engineering contract, and Dorothy has her stopover accommodation. Hurrying down a street, trying to avoid her ex-husband whom she rather suspects is following her, Dorothy is accosted by a strange man with a gun who orders her into a waiting car. Eric appears in the nick of time to act as white knight, and our story is well away.

Does this sound rather trite and possibly a bit boring? Well, it is and it isn’t. Dorothy is a sweetly complex character for this type of thriller-lite; the very 1970s plot requires a certain suspension of disbelief; but I found myself a willing partner in Dorothy’s adventures. The ending left me wryly smiling, with a bit of a “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing” feeling, but, on the whole, I’d cheerfully read another of Velda Johnston’s books if it appeared in my reading stack and I was too tired to engage in something more intellectually challenging.

Perfect fare for summer reading for my mom, and anyone else looking for a mild trip down a recent(ish) memory lane; the 1970s setting and the evocation of the “glamorous” life of a an airline stewardess will stir nostalgia to any of us who remember that decade well, and possibly provide a bit of a chuckle for a younger generation. Our heroine Dorothy has enough deprecatory self-awareness and natural wit to be an enjoyable companion for the few hours it takes to get her sorted out and back on track after her Parisian adventure.

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