Friday, 7 June 2019

Forgotten Book - The Girl in Cabin B54

Lucille Fletcher can't be described as a prolific novelist. She produced ten novels over a span of forty years (1948-88) and the first two of these were novelisations, co-written with Allan Ullman, of radio plays - she was a very successful writer for radio. But she certainly had a great deal of talent as a novelist, and The Girl in Cabin B54, from mid-way in her novel-writing career (it was published in 1968) demonstrates her gift for psychological suspense.

This is a cruise ship story, an example of a pleasing sub-genre which has given rise to a host of interesting, and remarkably varied, crime stories over the years. Having mentioned a few that rather underwhelmed me earlier this week, it's a pleasure to talk about a book that I found gripping. Here we are on board S.S. Columbia, making a trip from the USA to Europe. The protagonist - "hero" would be too much of a stretch - is the ship's doctor, Vernon Grove.

Vernon has been sailing for eight years. He's an experienced Casanova, a master of seduction. It's soon apparent that he's perfected his technique for picking up attractive women, but we also learn early on that, a couple of years back, one affair went wrong. The truth about that emerges gradually, as the past comes back to haunt him on one particular trip.

The key to the story is that a pretty young girl, who claims to have psychic powers, has taken up residence in cabin B54, which was the same cabin occupied two years ago by Vernon's ill-fated lover. What she says, coupled with the behaviour of some fellow passengers, makes him increasingly paranoid. The suspense mounts to fever pitch...

I can't say too much more about the plot, but I can say that this story illustrates Fletcher's ability to build suspense. She was a very skilled writer, and in my opinion her novels deserve to be better known.


Christopher Greaves said...

I was going to suggest you might like this after reading your previous post about dud shipboard crime novels! I find Fletcher's ability to create an atmosphere of 'strangeness' and suspense particularly impressive, and I like this book a lot. It's also one of her more hopeful ones.

Martin Edwards said...

I very much agree, Christopher. She had a real talent and I've started working my way through her other titles.

Kate said...

I've not read this one, but glad to know it is a good one; having just read another by Fletcher last week - ...And Presumed Dead.

Martin Edwards said...

Yes, Kate, although inevitably Fletcher's books are a bit variable, I've not read a poor one yet.

Christophe said...

I have just finished reading this one. Unfortunately, it did not resonate with me. Perhaps it will grow on me a bit more over time.

As you note, at its core, it's very much about the protagonist's descent into paranoia. And that is not really my cup of tea, though I very much enjoyed Simenon's 'The Man Who Watched the Trains Go By'. The latter, however, has much greater depth of characterization, a more subtle treatment of paranoia, and a richer plot.

This was the third book by Fletcher that I read, and I prefer both other, '... and Presumed Dead' and 'Eighty Dollars to Stamford', to it.