Friday, 27 March 2020

Forgotten Book - Stairway to an Empty Room

Dolores Hitchens is a writer I haven't read until recently. Thanks to Stark House Press, who have reprinted Stairway to an Empty Room and Terror Lurks in Darkness, I've now had a chance to make her acquaintance. This volume, with a useful intro by Nicholas Litchfield, brings together two stand-alone suspense novels she published in the early 1950s.

By that time, she was already a highly experienced crime writer. Born in Texas in 1907, her full married name was Julia Clara Catherine Maria Dolores Robins Norton Birk Olsen Hitchens, if Wikipedia is to be believed. She was married more than once, admittedly, but has any crime writer ever had so many names? One thing is for sure - she wrote even more books than she had names, sometimes under pseudonym D.B. Olsen. 

And those books were very varied, ranging from classic detective fiction to psychological suspense and pretty much everything in between. She even dabbled in the western. One of her novels, Fool's Gold, was filmed by none other than Jean-Luc Godard, as Band of Outsiders. Sleep with Strangers and Sleep with Slander are perhaps her best-known titles, but inevitably she has rather faded from view since her death in 1973.

On the strength of Stairway to an Empty Room, I can say she was a good writer, definitely a cut above the average, with a neat turn of phrase and a real interest in characterisation. This is an intriguing story, which begins with Monica taking charge of her niece after her sister has apparently been murdered by her husband. But the little girl doesn't believe that her father is guilty...

At first I thought this would develop into a typical clock-race story, as Monica - despite her reservations about both her sister and the man she married - tries to find out the truth, but in fact it's more unusual than that, with a nice couple of plot twists towards the end. Stark House Press have done us a favour by making this book available again in a new, attractive, and affordable edition. I've been reading several of their titles recently, including Ruth Fenisong's Deadlock, a story with a neat twist.  

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