The Deadly Dowager (Edwin Greenwood)

2488623Now this was rather more like it. The sadly short-lived Edwin Greenwood moved in interesting circles, having Arthur Machen as a literary and theatrical connection (that’s him on the cover blurb) and a rising star of the British cinema called Alfred Hitchcock, who Greenwood met during his own time as a filmmaker in the 1920s and for whom he wrote and acted in various films. This was the first of six novels he wrote in his last few years and it’s great; as the title may suggest, it revolves around the ancient dowager of a frankly decrepit once noble family—sorry, Family with a capital F—and her plot to restore the fortunes of same for the benefit of her grandson, the last of the line. This plot involves Arabella, the dowager, bringing the rest of the Family together and convincing them to insure their lives for young Henry’s future benefit so that he will eventually have money wherewith to live to as befits a member of the Family. Remarkably, no one seems to consider the plan might also involve Arabella murdering them so Henry can benefit from them a little more quickly… This is terrific stuff, boosted very much by its characters. Henry makes for something of a hapless hero, who doesn’t actually want to benefit from his relatives like this; fortunately his true love Dora is at hand to support him against the formidable Arabella (and against the formidable Lily, who Arabella brings in as a romantic complication for Henry). The dowager is, of course, a fascinating lead figure, a magnetic bit of comic evil driven by her monomania about the Family and her determination to keep this frankly worthless bloodline going. All in all, great stuff, a nice rediscovery by the Valancourt boys, and if they decide to republish any of Greenwood’s other books I’ll be in line for that…

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