The Filigree Ball

The Filigree BallThe Filigree Ball
by Anna Katherine Green
Rating: ★★★★★
Publication Date: January 1, 1903
Pages: 418
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Grosset & Dunlap

 

I just finished this book and I have to forgo sleep to get this review down so I don’t forget any details overnight.

5 star read.  My first this year, I think.  Absolutely amazing story from start to finish, but oh man!  The finish!

I’ve been enjoying Anna Katherine Green’s books since first discovering her The Mayor’s Wife; I was entranced by how such an old story could rivet me, the reader, with what would have had to have been the birth of many tropes we get jaded about it today’s mysteries.

I admit to buying this one with some hesitancy though.   I assumed, by the title, that the mystery would involve a grand ball, someone being killed during a waltz, or over dinner, or perhaps just after an illicit assignation in the garden behind the ballroom.

HA!  I could not have been more wrong!  From start to finish, I had a creepy house with a history of death in the library, always by the same mysterious means; a house considered haunted by its history if not its actual ghosts.  Dark, abandoned mid-wedding, when the last body was found, right down to leaving the food on the tables and the cake on the floor where it was dropped during the stampede to escape the house’s curse.  It’s all very gothic.

Then there’s the bride, dead by seemingly her own hand, just a fortnight after her marriage, but surrounded by inconsistencies that make murder a possibility. Her heartbroken husband and her distraught sister, both of whom have shaky alibis and strange reactions to the events as they unfold, making them look more suspicious than bereaved.

Then there’s the narrator, who at times I swear foreshadows the Noir genre, with his quiet investigations on the side, to try to prove his theory that more was going on than met the eye.  His dedication to doing so to save the woman, who is, throughout the book, put upon a pedestal of all that is perfect in woman: beautiful, proud, self-sacrificing, suffering with utmost dignity.   Alas, we were missing just a bottle of whiskey and possibly the use of “Dame” in the narrative and we could have credited AKG with the first noir mystery.

The puzzle pieces come together, disjointedly, as our nameless narrator plod through, putting clues together, ferreting out further information and even chasing one witness to Tampa, Florida.

And the ending, omg the ending was so good.  So well crafted, and such a sucker punch.

The books perfection might have been heightened, in my opinion, by the exclusion of the final chapter, chapter 27.  It’s truly extraneous to the book in all ways except for those readers who want their loose ends tied up in a HEA bow.  I did not mind it, I would not have missed its absence either.

Truly, one of the best mysteries I’ve read in ages, vintage or otherwise.  I’d happily recommend this to anyone who enjoys a good vintage mystery (with the caveat to expect a few offhand and cheerful references to the casual racism that was part of the times in which this book was written.)

 

I read this because I’ve been meaning to for the last few weeks anyway, but also because the new Halloween Bingo 2021 square Vintage Mysteries is one of the re-vamped squares that has lifted its restrictions on what constitutes a qualifying mystery.  As AKG predates the Golden Age, it wouldn’t have necessarily qualified before.  I’ll be using it for Vintage Mysteries but if anyone else is interested, it would also qualify for Gothic, and I think, given the questions concerning all the murders that take place in the book, it would also work for Locked Room

The Turquoise Mask

The Turquoise MaskThe Turquoise Mask
by Phyllis A. Whitney
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9780385085144
Publication Date: January 1, 1974
Pages: 250
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Doubleday

 

Wow, can Whitney be verbose.  Her earlier work has always been better, in my opinion, but this one was an in-between – first published in 1974.  Which makes the plotting excellent, and the abuse of the expository extreme.  Unfortunately the expository gauntlet must be run for many chapters before a hint of the rewarding plot can be found.

I’m undecided on whether it’s worth the effort.  The plotting was very well done.  I was absolutely certain I knew who the villain was right up until almost the end, when she convinced me I was wrong, that it was really …. and then she blindsided me with the solution that was just unexpected.  Whitney got huge bonus points for stunning me, but I’m not sure how I actually feel about it as a legitimate ending.  It works, but it feels like it shouldn’t.

The characters, and the romance, were, as is typical with both Whitney’s writing and the time she wrote in, dramatic and overly simplified.  Insta-love has nothing on romantic suspense from the 70’s; and characters’ personalities are never subtle or nuanced.  If you accept this as the style of its time, it’s not an insurmountable problem.

The one thing Whitney never lost, no matter how many books she wrote, was her sense of place.  I’m not sure I’ve ever read anybody better at putting the reader in whatever setting she wants them, and making them feel like they were there.  Here the deserts of New Mexico are the backdrop, and though I’ve never in my life seen an adobe house, I feel like I’ve lived in one the last couple of days.

I’d neither recommend it nor deter anyone from this one; the exposition is a challenge, but if that slow build isn’t a deterrent, the story is one of her more complicated and compelling ones.

I read this for the Romantic Suspense square (which is on my card is the Psych square that’s been flipped), for Halloween Bingo 2020.

Window on the Square

Window on the SquareWindow on the Square
by Phyllis A. Whitney
Rating: ★★★★½
Publication Date: January 1, 1962
Pages: 297
Genre: Fiction, Mystery, Romance, Suspense
Publisher: Appleton-Century-Crofts

 

This was one of the first ‘adult’ books I’d ever read, one of my mothers favorites. I love the story, even though it’s not my usual fare.

Ms. Whitney does a brilliant job of writing characters that come alive – from the prim and proper Megan, to the mercurial Brandon, and the dark and forbidding Garth. I’ve read this story again and again over the years, wearing out the paperback until it is in pieces and held together with a rubber band. I upgraded to the hardcover version so I can keep on re-reading this book – it stands up very well over time.

If you like a ‘dark’ (kind of gothic) cozy, I think you’ll enjoy reading this oldie but goodie.