Posts Tagged ‘Awkward scenes of forbidden passion’

columbella phyllis a whitney 001Columbella by Phyllis A. Whitney ~ 1966. This edition: Doubleday, 1966. Hardcover. 246 pages.

My rating: 3/10

Oh, why did I read this? It was so disappointing. And I have had prior experience with this author – see here  – and went in fully cognizant of what I was about to experience. All I can say then is that hope springs eternal. And that my hope was dashed. Oh, woe!

But don’t you like the mysterious cover illustration, and doesn’t this flyleaf blurb sound promising, for a lightly diverting romantic-suspense thriller type thing?

That was a night of gold and red, with torches flaming on the hilltop and the lights of Charlotte Amalie fanning out around the harbor below. A night of water lily and sweet-smelling cereus. The night of the shell…

Jessica Abbott, fleeing her own past, finds herself the center of a whirlpool of conflict at Hampden House, high on its cliff in the Virgin Islands. She is confronted by Catherine Drew, a woman whose sole purpose is to torment and destroy. Catherine is the wife of a vital, driven man, Kingdon Drew-toward whom Jessica is irresistible drawn. Jessica must defy the beautiful, self-indulgent Catherine, who likes to affect the name of a shell – Columbella. She must fight for the very future of another woman’s child. Above all, she must find the strength to help the man she loves escape the trap Catherine has set for him. Yet each day Catherine seems to mock her in a new way – and win. Until the night of the shell…

Always, the brilliant island sun shines over Hampden House in St. Thomas and over Caprice, the plantation in St. Croix that is crumbling to eerie ruin, guarded by its unicorns. Always the threat of a hurricane looms over this exotic setting, where the past still affects the present.

So. Our lovely heroine Jessica has just lost her own sweet-faced, soft-voiced, utterly poisonous, insidiously controlling mother, and she is seeking to escape her own demons by taking on the role of companion-governess to yet another emotionally-abused girl, the teenage daughter of an architect and the aforementioned Catherine. Jessica falls in love with the hunky, broody Kingdon at first sight, and he himself is overcome with passion for her, which he manfully tamps down until it breaks free of its straining bonds. Lots of scenes of overt jealousy (on Catherine’s part) and apparent dislike (on Kingdon’s part only, for Jessica openly fawns on her employer from the get go) before the two lovers fall into each other’s arms. But there is still that pesky wife…

The final solution is of course a convenient demise – poor Catherine-Columbella! With Kingdon as main suspect, but of course he gets off the hook, thanks to a convenient confession by the true killer, who then is dealt with by the Hand of God (tree falling in a storm, crushing said murderer) and allowing everything to Work Out For The Best.

The best bits in the book were in the details. The setting, St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands, is enthusiastically described, and there are nice touches of verisimilitude in the discussion of the shell-collecting business and the preparation of the specimens for sale.

But the scenarios and the characters – wow! Can something be described as both flat and melodramatic at the same time? If so, our writer has pulled it off. And the passion between Kingdon and Jessica was blush-inducing indeed, but not because of its explicit nature. No, because it was so agonizingly clichéd. I was embarrassed at myself for willingly reading such schlock.

I want to like Phyllis Whitney so very, very much. She has such a promising back story as a writer, and she very obviously goes about her stuff with the best will in the world. She was a bestselling writer in her time, and much beloved by her devoted readers. So I may continue in my occasional investigations of her oeuvre, hoping to find a semi-precious gem or two amidst the very prolific sparkly bits of her vast body of work.

phyllis a whitney bio back dj columbella 001

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