“I’m Pamela Ruthven….I’m an ornithologist. Birds you know.” Hmmm. Any relation to Norman Bates?
A few Friday’s ago I was in the mood to read some light-lit , and picked out two Windswept’s – Dark Magic by Miriam Lynch and Murder by Moonlight by Dorothy Woolfolk. You may have read my review on Dark Magic. The reason I bring it up is because it’s interesting to note how different the tone is between the two writers. This couldn’t happen with just any series , editors were too clever at smoothing out any creative wrinkles but with less constricting thematic series like Wildfire , Wishing Star and now add Windswept to the list it’s easy to spot a writers tone. Even though Sweet Dreams has a few stand out’s there’s a lot of trimming done – hangnail sentences are clipped , metaphors yanked , everything is buffed into a state echoing the squeaky clean look of the cover models. Dorothy Woolfolk is a good writer , she’s crisp , clear and her forte appears to be mystery. Whereas Dark Magic was seeped in the brooding atmosphere and daffy logic of most pb gothic’s – Dorothy Woolfolk’s Murder by Moonlight ( love the title ) has it’s roots firmly planted in the genre of mystery – which isn’t a bad thing.
The plot –
17 year old Kristin Boyer ( who from the word go is alert and suspicious ) is flying off to London with her rich bff Alexa ( who from the word go thinks most of these suspicious fellows are only flirting – she’d have been left in a ditch somewhere in the first chapter if she was the protagonist. ) Both girls are off to meet their families – Kristin- her mom, who in true Woolfolk fashion ( woman’s lib for everyone ) is called Dr. Clark ( maiden name ) and is a professor at a London college. She is running around England working on a thesis about the veracity of the Brontes. Alexa is meeting up with her rich albeit thorn-in-a-woman’s-lib side parents. Mrs. Bower tends to say “what ever you say dear.” to dear old hubby who chuckles at her forgetfulness and tends to say “thank goodness I love you.” Basically they’re boring fuddy-duds. As Kristin gets settled in her drab , old Victorian horror of a hotel to wait for her mother the story kicks off in what becomes a pattern with the men at least. They appear and evaporate at will – driving suspicious Kristin up the wall. There’s the weirdo airplane steward who pushes the latest Christopher Reeve movie – Superman 2 anyone, a sexy Egyptian man Farouk who saves Kristin from getting ripped off a genuine English tea ( when she is served limp sandwiches and a boring chocolate cake – he demands the real deal -and a cart is brought in brimming with sandwiches – chicken , cucumber , sardine ( ew ) , ham , watercress ( how dainty ) and fine English cheese , a huge bowl of English triffle , chocolate mousse , chocolate eclairs , napoleans , hot steaming scones with a jug of wild strawberry jam an a pot of yellow butter – and we’re told straight faced – this cost basically the same as the first tea – yeah right , Farouk is coo-coo , don’t trust him Kristin.) and lastly a Scottish hunk named Richard Fayne whom Kristin constantly believes likes Alexa best. It’s one of the few annoying cliches Woolfolk allowed to slip in – the old – my bff gets all the guys , I don’t stand a chance woe is me. Meanwhile she’s up to her eyeballs in action while the bff can only stand around in cute outfits. Though I do have to hand it to Alexa she is sweet and loyal.
Kristin and Alexa manage to get in a little sight-seeing before it’s official that Kristin’s mother’s is missing. Not leaving word was suspicious but not showing up at the appointed time – well. It’s enough to bring out the detective in our already attuned heroine. Oddly enough ,the reader already has glimpsed into the fate of Dr. Clark – her ordeal is told in italics spliced through the chapters turning the story into more thriller than mystery with the tension drawn out as to if Dr. Clark will be saved in time not what happened to her. * If you want the spoiler here goes a young woman Pamela tipped her off that Charlotte Bronte wasn’t the true author of Jane Eyre – she’s got proof , only Dr. Clark begins to notice that the only proof Pamela’s able to show her is that she’s off her rocker but before she escape, Dr. Clark finds herself a prisoner , holed up like James Woods in Misery with a busted up leg.*
Kristin and Alexa manage to get the Bowers off their backs to allow them a train ride into Edinburgh to scope from some clues and bump into Richard Fayne at a college party in their hotel called the Pink Heather , whose attentive enough until he ditches the girls to return a necklace to some blonde named….Pamela. Aha! Kristin i.d.’s a dead body of a drowned woman who thankfully for her turns out to be a stranger. She goes to her mother’s college and learns Richard Fayne works there. Aha! ( I just say these aha’s to make it seem like I was on the up and up. Really I was off speculating ..well I won’t even tell you what I was speculating – let’s just say I’m as great a detective as Sherlock Hemlock – Sesame Street)
There’s a lot of drawn out stuff that tends to repeat a pattern – the Bowers try to get her to come back to London – no , Kristin hits a dead end – then finds a clue, her suitcase gets slashed to remind her the danger is following her. And as feminist as Woolfolk is, she allows Kristin to pass out so she can be helped by her Scottish hunk , Richard Fayne. ( Even in Miriam Lynch’s Dark Magic – the hunk was flat on his back and helpless for most of the book. ) But I’ll let it pass because Woolfolk throws in a passage from Jane Eyre to give Kristin some I-am-woman-hear-me-roar inspiration that has her practically punching her fists in the air – yes! Yes! [ my mother’s life is a thousand times more exciting and meaningful than Stella Bower’s! ] Of course I thought this scene would’ve been a titch more powerful had Kristin first accepted Alexa’s wise offering of money when she is called back to London , instead of becoming completely destitute – like Jane Eyre , without a hotel room , crawling across the moors into a cave to escape the rain and going days without food – all to be rescued by Alexa and her money in the end anyway. Hmmm. You can’t really knock the Bowers when they come in so handy!
As Kristin is brought back to her spunky self with broth ( despite being penniless and at the mercy of a rescue ) refuses to go back to London. Alexa caves and stays with her and together they meet up with a couple of English gents named Alfie ( wouldn’t you know it , maybe he knows – what’s it all about …Alfie – Sorry couldn’t resist. ) and Matthew. They’re sheep herders who agree to take the girls up on the moors but then disappear to tend to their sheep. Lightning flashes and the girls run for cover before spying some crazy lady dancing like a witch under the electric glow of the crackling lightning – Pamela of course – who else would be out there acting like a nut.
Kristin learns some Bronte history , but it’s the mention of an old tunnel under an old historic site that has the reader sit up and take notice – no Gothic would be complete without a venture into some dark , spooky tunnel and we know that it can only happen late at night. Kristin talks the two English boys into taking her and Alexa into the tunnel which is so old part of it collapses cutting Kristin off from the others. Before she can get much further – she is conked out. Time for the show-down.
I must say Woolfolk does revert to her feminist ways when it’s most important by not allowing a Fayne to swoop down the tunnel but allowing Kristin her Valkyrie victory rites – despite the fact that Pamela is older , more conniving , crazy as a loon and strong -Kristin manages in a moment – after Pam lights her dark wig on fire ( see that’s one of the dangers of being a maniac who has to have forty billion candles lighting their lair ) , to slam her across the back of her neck and knock her out. Hazaah! See , No man has come to her rescue. But then she spies her mom seemingly dead – she’s really unconscious – and wonders if it’s too late.
Of course it isn’t! Because the day has been saved , it’s time for the final chapter – the wrap up chapter – Farouk makes a final appearance dragging Kristin into a closet for her own safety. No, Kristin isn’t about to order any more English teas – it’s the Steward – a.k.a drug smuggler whose looking for the stash he placed in Kristin’s luggage – namely a framed photo which Kristin took to carrying in her purse – which clears up the danger following her. Richard Fayne has come belatedly to her rescue – he’s somewhat related to Pam and knew what a kook she was , he’d been keeping an eye on her. Not very well , mind you. But Kristin mopes a minute thinking he’s making plans to see Alexa in the states, not her. For a woman’s libber she certainly is quite low on herself. But Alexa grins – not to see me – to see you. Ah well , she’s got time to grow into it.
All in all the book was an enormously satisfying read. I give it ***1/2 out of four stars. And Woolfolk writes as though , if she hasn’t been to London has done enough research to wonderfully fake it. The book crackles with precise descriptions and atmosphere a good sign for a successful gothic/mystery. Grab yourself a copy it’s well worth it!
Other Oodles –
* Alexa’s posh hotel was described as [ The lobby was huge – orange with brown and chrome and glass accents, a melange of hard crystal and other unyielding materials that were uninviting but efficient and striking. ] Calling all earth tones! Dial phones! Shag carpeting! okay – I admit it , I love the combination of orange and brown.
* In Alexa’s room is a low cabinet with lighted buttons reading GIN , SCOTCH , PEANUTS , GRAPE DRINK ,CHOCOLATE , PRETZELS. ( and no she wasn’t sleeping over at Willy Wonka’s Chocolate factory ) You could press a button and … whrrr , a panel opened revealing your treat. Wonderful , Kristin replies a robot servant! Don’t you just love how anything mechanical in the 80’s had everyone panting for the day when a robot servants would be possible. Hell , we’re still waiting for that one.
* Despite being alone in a strange country , only 17 , and without a chaperone – Kristin agrees to go out for dinner with Farouk ( a grown man ) – but then again these are the days before movies like Taken and Hostel.
* Pamela at one points calls herself an ornithologist – which reminded me of Norman Bates – he wasn’t an ornithologist – he was a taxidermist – but that movie had a lot of eerie connections with birds and I wondered if again , Woolfolk was trying to reinforce her psychotic nature even subliminally.
* Love the title! It’s romantic and tragic and dreamy – Even though no Murder took place.
I decided to pick for my 80’s nostalgia – this totally bizarre 1983 movie called Trenchcoat. It’s basically a Disney movie but because of some questionable aspects of the movie ; Margot Kidder swears occasionally , tells Robert Hayes he nice buns , is hit on by an Italian looking for some sex , gets caught up in a drug ring and Arabs looking for plutonium , it was released by Buena Vista. And played ad infinitum on Family Channel in the 80’s. I loved it – but then I loved any movie that featured a heroine who wanted to be a writer ( Disney’s Sunday Drive , Romancing the Stone.) It’s a quirky and bizarre curio. Check it out. It’s about a writer wannabe ( of detective fiction ) , Margot Kidder who flies off to Malta for inspiration and is caught up in some humorous intrigue. One of her gaffs – she starts off her book calling her character ( a female ) a private dick – and wait -gets it – now that’s embarrassing she says and corrects it. I know the videos on the long side but hey – take advantage pop some popcorn and enjoy!