Friday 3 April 2020

Forgotten Book - The Widower

Xavier Lechard is one of my favourite crime fiction bloggers. His blog, At the Villa Rose, has been around for a long time, predating this one, and I've learned a lot from him. As you can tell from the fact that the blog takes its name from a Hanaud story by A.E.W. Mason, Xavier is a big fan of vintage crime fiction, and when he recommends a book, I listen. So when he expressed admiration for The Widower by Van Siller, I took note, and when he highighted the availability online of a cheap paperback edition, I swooped.

Van Siller was the writing name of Hilda Van Siller (1911-82). She dropped her first name when she started out, presumably thinking that the type of books she was writing would attract more attention if readers thought the author was male. Her first novel appeared in 1943 and there was an espionage element in some of her early books. She enjoyed a long career and created a number of series characters but I have to confess that I hadn't heard of her until Xavier mentioned The Widower.

The protagonist of the story is an architect called Phillip Sargent. He's successful, but his marriage, to an attractive but disgruntled woman called Louise, is far from happy. They live in an attractive town called Bishop's corner, and Louise's irritating sister Irene lives with them, following the breakdown of her own marriage. One day, Phillip is intercepted on his way home by an attractive neighbour, Caroline Winters, who breaks the news to him that Louise has committed suicide.

A psychological tangle develops, as tongues in the town begin to wag. One review suggested that this book combines Peyton Place with a whodunit, and it's not a bad description. The portrayal of the cruelty of the gossips is very well done, as is the steady ratcheting-up of the tension. The plot is, however, rather thin. Even in a short book, which this is, I could have done with a rather twistier narrative. So it's not exactly up to Margaret Millar's standard, but few books are. I found this an enjoyable read even if I wasn't quite as impressed as Xavier, and I'm glad I followed his recommendation.



Mark McGlone said...

I agree with you about this. It was certainly worth reading but the plot was rather thin. I'm glad I read it though and will seek out more by this author.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks for this, Mark.