Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Wench is Dead - Ruth Fenisong

First published 1953; cover shown is an undated (circa 1950s) Ace Books (USA) paperback. 159 pages.

Before I begin... why is it so hard to find biographical information about so many of the prolific mystery writers of the 1940s, 50s & 60s? Only the sketchiest information is available, and certainly no biographies. Pamela Branch, Ruth Fenisong, Jean Potts, Hilda Lawrence... even the creator of Miss Silver, Patricia Wentworth. Many of these authors wrote bestsellers, with Wentworth's popularity almost surpassing Agatha Christie's at times in the States. Perhaps they were all just intensely private people, but it's frustrating nonetheless.

The Wench is Dead was my first Fenisong crime novel. I chose it using the method I've usually used when discovering a new author: I liked the cover. The picture didn't have much to do with the story, and the title is misleading, but I still like it.

The detective in the story is Gridley Nelson, a New York police officer. He stays out of the way for the majority of the story, as Dene Cameron, an unbelievably vain woman, and Paul Debrulet, a sculptor with a very dark secret indeed, meet for the first time while Dene is holidaying on Long Island. It doesn't take long for Paul to begin spending his nights with Dene, while all around them the tension is building.

Paul is not who he says he is, and when Gridley Nelson's wife, Kyrie (who is interestingly as opposite to the shallow and superficial Dene as can be), attends a dinner party along with Paul and Dene, she recognises him from one of her son's true crime magazines. Within hours lives are turned upside down, as Dene's housemaid is killed by a hit and run driver, Gridley travels to Long Island at his wife's urging, Dene is attacked and left for dead, and Junie, Gridley and Kyrie's 2-year-old son, disappears.

Once I had accepted that the character of Dene was for real (surely no one is this vain!), I was able to really enjoy this book. I found myself liking Gridley from the start, and there were even a couple of laughs (which I'm sure Fenisong didn't intend) as Dene tried to free her "soft, white, blemish-free" arms from the ropes tying her.

No comments: