Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Malice Matrimonial by Joan Fleming (1959)

When we were in New York for my sister's wedding last August, one of my favorite stops was at the Strand Book Store ("18 miles of books. Since 1927."). I'd recommend adding a stop at the Strand (and some extra room in your baggage) to anyone heading to NYC for a visit. I got this pretty brittle but barely read copy of Malice Matrimonial by Joan Fleming (1959) in the basement of the book store from a big table full of other ignored books of this type for only $1. That is my kind of table, folks.

Fleming was a British crime novelist who published over 30 novels from the 1940s through the 1970s. For those of you who care about this kind of thing (Dr. M), she didn't write her first one until she was 41 and she had a very successful career.

This is the first of Fleming's novels that I've read, and while I finished it over a week ago I still haven't been able to get my head around how I feel about it. Our hero, Henry Ormskirk, is a rather dull young man with interesting friends. He is dumped by his fiance, loses his job, and then goes to a party given by Venice, an exotic woman who owns an exclusive fashion boutique, with his roommate to cheer himself up. While there, Henry meets and quickly falls madly in love with Venice's daughter Pia, recently reunited with her mother in England after being raised by her father, a Count, in Italy. Things move at a brisk pace and before you know it Henry and Pia are married, and Henry has a new job drawing sketches of models in new dresses at Venice's store. The heat cools off soon after they start living together. Pia quickly learns that she is pregnant and a cooling marriage plus a baby that he doesn't feel much attachment too lead to a dull and wandering Henry who is soon back in the arms of his ex-fiance.

This is all a little weird but not that mysterious until Pia divulges that she was pregnant before she met Henry and then disappears after a big fight. Everyone is pretty sure Henry killed her, and his dopiness doesn't help matters much, but when the clues start slowly rolling in, they just don't add up.

This book is very dark and more than a little bitter with few likable characters or hopeful plot lines. That edge gives a color to the pretty pedestrian mystery that makes the book very readable, but also a little off-putting. Like I said, I still can't figure out what I thought of this. I'll need to mull this one over a little bit more, but if I run across any more Fleming bargains in the basement of a book store, I'd definitely scoop them up.

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