The late Robert Barnard was a great admirer of Jean Potts' novels. As well as being a novelist of renown, Bob was a savvy critic; over the years, he recommended quite a few writers to me, and I don't think any of them have ever disappointed. But it's taken me a long time to get round to reading Jean Potts. When I did, I decided to start with her debut novel, Go, Lovely Rose.
The novel was first published in 1954, but it's a very mature piece of writing for a beginner; no doubt this is due to the fact that Potts had served a literary apprenticeship as a writer of short stories before trying her hand at a full-length story. It proved to be a good move: Go, Lovely Rose won an Edgar Allan Poe award from the Mystery Writers of America.
Rachel Buckmaster returns to the small town of Coreyville, where she and her brother Hartley grew up, following the death of Rose Henshaw. Rose had been living in Rachel's family home, thanks to a mystifying provision in the will of Rachel's late father. Mystifying because Rose was a nasty piece of work. Rachel had been glad to escape her influence, and she fears that Rose's spiteful nature may have driven Hartley to pushing the old woman down the cellar stairs. For Rose's death means that the siblings can now cash in by selling the house.
Soon it becomes apparent that Hartley was not the only person with good cause to wish Rose ill. Rachel finds herself caught up in a teasing mystery, and Potts builds the suspense with an expertise remarkable in a first time novelist. When she died in 1999, Ed Hoch (who was, like Bob Barnard, a very perceptive judge of these things) praised her gifts of characterisation, and her ability to evoke authentic small-town middle-America settings. These qualities are on display in her impressive debut novel. I'm not sure if she ever surpassed it in her later work, but I have more of her books, and I enjoyed this one enough to be determined to give them a try.
I've read quite a few of her books and it's nice to see her being given some well-deserved attention. Her novels very in mood - some are rather slight in content ['The Trash Stealer'] and some are pretty downbeat ['The Little Lie']. The ones I've enjoyed the most have been the more upbeat ones: 'The Footsteps on the Stairs', 'An Affair of the Heart', and in particular 'Home is the Prisoner' - a fine piece of work.
Thanks, Christopher. I have Home is the Prisoner, and will prioritise it!
Great to see a piece about Jean Potts. I have read her books over the years and only a few weeks back read 'The Little Lie'. I loved 'The Man with the Cane'. Very clever.
I've been reviewing her books since April and have about three more posts in the works for this year. THE EVIL WISH most definitely surpasses this debut. The concept is truly brilliant. I've read four of her books so far and each is more daring than its predecessor. The only one that left me wanting was DEATH OF A STRAY CAT though it is not without some original spins and shake-ups of the traditional mystery novel. I've not read as many as Chris Greaves who also recommended some titles to me when I reviewed this book on my blog. Stark House may be reprinting her work because Greg Shepard, the owner of the at reprint house, is very impressed with her books.
I read a few of her books many years ago, and (inspired by John Norris's reviews) I re-read Home is the Prisoner recently - she is a fine writer and I want to revisit her some more.
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