The Other Mrs. Walker & Thirteen Guests

Back at work and I’ve been super busy.  It has started as a confusing and distracted year so far, but I’m sure it will straighten out.  As a consequence, I’ve only read two books this week, The Other Mrs. Walker, which I ordered after reading about it somewhere and being unable to get it at my local library.

The story has a current day death, not a murder, that is linked to events from long ago.  During the war three young sisters, lose their mother to mental illness and some nefarious machinations, and their father to his ability to cope.  Their little family is fractured over the course of time and eventually the three sisters lose all contact.  In the modern day, the children of one of the sisters is dealing with her own issues, working on  locating relatives or a history for a dead Jane Doe for her new job (which as an aside is farcicial), and investigating her own history, which her mother has always been rather tight-lipped about.

The book uses the story to try to explore the bigger themes of exploitation of women, children, the poor, the mentally ill, and the old and the theme of identity, who are we?, how do we know who we are? and where do we come from?    The more important question  raised by the multiple Mrs. Walkers is “What rights do we have to know?”

I wanted to know what happened and to understand the entirety of the sister’s story.  I had guessed at parts of it and not others but I kept reading to fill in all the blanks.  The story was really, really slow.  Very little happening at times, a lot of convoluted wandering of the plot with very little forward momentum achieved, a great deal of repetition.   There are very few likeable characters here and the time shifts are constant at points leaving a very disjointed feeling.  I don’t need a happy ending to like a book, but this just left a feeling of – why did I bother reading this – especially at over 400 pages.

Thirteen Guests is a classic mystery by T. Jefferson Farjeon.  Lord Aveling is hosting a hunting party at his estate and due to an injured stranger has an unlucky 13 guests at his estate.  It isn’t long for the bad luck to strike and then there is a murder to solve.  Well crafted characters, from John, the injured stranger, to Pratt,the society painter, Nadine, the widow, and several others, who round out this rather full cast to give the reader many suspects to choose from.  This is very much a  character study of a novel as much as a murder mystery.

The story itself is meticulously plotted with a to the minute plot line accounting for the movements during the murder.  There are many things to watch for unstable finances, are people who they say they are?, blackmailers, poisoners,  and jealousy, all possible motives for murder.  Another great classic from the Golden Age of Detective Fiction!