Girl in the Shadows
Woo-boy where to start. I enjoyed Miriam Lynch’s Dark Magic – which is why on a whim I dug out her other Windswept I had – Girl in the Shadows – I made it a Windswept weekend alternating between Dorothy Woolfolk and Miriam Lynch. It would be mean to say that Dorothy Woolfolk is the better writer between the two – so let’s just say she’s seems better organized – knowing exactly what she wants to say and where she wants to take the story. Lynch on the other hand seems to write, hunched over her typewriter as though making things up on the fly. Let me explain by starting off with the plot –
18 yr old Amanda Willett is about to return to Lake Falls and Chanson du Lac her french sort of grandmother’s expansive waterfront mansion – having not been there since a tragic accident eight years ago when 16 year old psychopath Carla shoved 10 year old Ellen in the lake knowing she couldn’t swim. Grandmere having caught the incident from her window , sent Carla away before a scandal could erupt. While young Ellen was left in a state of psychosomatic muteness. A year after Amanda’s Grandmere has died , several cousin like friends of the family and Amanda are summoned for the reading of the will. Sounds good doesn’t it – well at least not bad. In fact it starts off promising , if a little stuffed with back story as we learn that Amanda is still haunted the memories of her summers eight years ago at the mansion. But mainly Carla – always she adds Carla. Carla is like Rebecca ( if you’ve ever seen the Hitchcock movie – and if you haven’t watch it , or read the book by Daphne DuMaurier , it too is splendid stuff ) her presence is made know even when she’s not there.
The trouble however is that the story quickly falls into a repeat motif – like a
cha-cha record stuck in a grove. Spooky goings on happen at night while by day the characters muddle through trying to decipher them. And what characters they are. Amanda never achieves a solid identity – she’s gelatinous – a character who is fiesty when need be – pitted against an annoyingly pushy newspaper man , blindly loyal to mute Ellen and she longs for Rick the way a heroine does when thrown into the midst of a disaster with a young man ( any young man ) – as if romance is necessary – even when we can see nothing of interest in him. So she’s predictable and boring. But then again , Rick doesn’t win any prizes he is described at first as being slavishly devoted to Carla ( who is no raving beauty and something of a psychopath ) so that’s not exactly endearing a reader to Rick. He is however beautiful. Yawn. Ellen worst yet , could harken back to the golden era of writing when heroines were weak , dainty and doll , mawkishly lovely for a – having some handicap ( in this case her psychosomatic muteness ) and or b – allowing anyone to walk all over her – ( Ellen as overall victim is seen as some sort of angelic martyr / contrasted against the vicious Carla ) and heroine Amanda is too wishy-washy to be anything between the two. Her strengths are sheer luck , and happenstance.
Now that we’ve got the players here goes – Amanda arrives at the mansion ( a mammoth old foreboding building – but aren’t they all – situated on a lake. ) only to find that she is six days early for the reading of the will. This is told to her by stock character Matilde the extremely grumpy housekeeper who of course when she gets angry shouts in french. Mon dui!
But Amanda has proof that she’s no idiot ( at least concerning dates ), in the form of a letter from the slick lawyer , Roger Platt whose handling the will. She’s confronts him and he offers some lame excuse that it was a typo – but don’t worry the others will be along to keep you company. Even Amanda can realize a typo should occur on one letter – not two. But she’s not about to look a gift horse in the mouth. Rick and Ellen arrive and because this is a gothic nobody is quite cousins – in fact nobody is really related to the deceased Madame Bonheur – she is Amanda’s father’s stepmother. And Rick and Ellen are described as distant cousins of whosits in order to allow for a romance without going the creepy Flowers-in-the-attic-incest-eewww route. This is supposed to give us a clue into the eccentricities of an old rich woman who surrounds herself with children who aren’t blood relations , and then ignore them. Why a parent would go along with this is a whole other story entirely.
And although she hasn’t seen Rick and Ellen since she was ten picks up as though no time has passed. She still pines for beautiful Rick , and treats Ellen like a bff. All of them come from an overall orphan state – no boy fiends back home to complicate things , or for that matter girl friends , parents , friends or relatives. It’s a key flaw that awakens the reader from the ‘books reality’ by the obvious implausibility of the one-note characters.
The first gothic happening is old hat – sobbing in the night , but not as moth-eaten as Rick’s reply – the house is settling. Oh for a moment in a book – following a statement like this when the heroine upon viewing a sobbing fear-stricken character could state with an arch look at said male – I see the house is settling. Ba-dum-bump.
Days are first spent avoiding the heat wandering the grounds and hanging out in the music room which among it’s many instruments is the 70’s whopper the autoharp. The lake doesn’t have the shock effect that Rick hoped and Ellen still continues to write notes in her note pad – that is when she feels like communicating – mostly she just stands around smiling sweetly. Nights evolve into specter visions of Grandmere who comes to Amanda’s room and speaks – nothing ominous – just pat phrases she was known to use. Trailing the scent of violets. There is also some haunting music coming from somewhere upstairs. But in the morning telling Rick he dismissing it as only being dreams – see what I mean about Rick- so supportive. ( but I can’t really blame him it’s a condition of Gothics – the male is always a smug snot seeped in levelheadedness and the writer always helps this along. ) As when Rick agrees to stay up late – and nothing happens.
But never , never when this happens – give them an opening honey – as when Amanda finds out nothing happens replies [ I do not understand it!…It makes me sound like I’m a loony, spaced out. That’s what you think, isn’t it, that something is missing up here?” She touched her forehead with her index finger. ] You almost feel sympathy with Rick having to deal with her self deprecating remarks – but does he have to be so transparent – you were ,just – well, overtired. Even Amanda can spot the obvious – He did not sound sincere. Remember honey his good points – he’s just , well – beautiful.
Since the romance is fizzling she wants to go home , but there’s that codicil to remember – everyone must be in the music room during the reading of the will – anyone not present will forfeit their share to the others. Aha! So she decides to hang tough – Rick the beautiful might come through yet. Grandmere the ghost appears again and Amanda cries Who are you? Getting up enough gumption to dart forward and grab the ghosts shawl – jinkies – as Velma would say in Scooby Doo – Ghosts don’t wear real shawls. But the proof of course disappears before Amanda can show Rick. How – she is shoved down the stairs but caught by someone who didn’t want the fall to be too deadly – hmmm two accomplices. To keep Ellen out of most of the action ( and as a suspect ) – you know the old deal – two’s company , threes a crowd – Ellen is described ( like most Edwardian heroines as being stranger-shy , ‘fraid of crowds ) so that Amanda and Rick can do some investigating – but rather than anything sensible – like investigate the tower room they go into town. A visit to the graveyard – but not to dig up Grandmere’s corpse to ensure she’s in there – they’ll take the tombstone’s word for it. Amanda suggests they talk to the slick lawyer but Rick scoffs this , he couldn’t even get our arrival date right. Instead they go to the library and read Madame’s obituary and meet an annoying young man , the other suspicious hunk – who says upon meeting err seeing them – [ “You looking for something? Come on, no secrets now.” ] He’s hunting for a story , or possibly a beating. He rightly annoys Rick but of course Amanda finds him attractive. Persistent but attractive.
Whenever they talk over their notions – not many because they haven’t found out much yet – Matilde always seems to overhear and do a one-note berserk scene. She’s quite fond of Grandmere , to the fact of patterning herself after her , even eight years ago she’d favored Carla too. Hmm maybe it’s time to get suspicious on the old battleax – I mean she does have a room close to all the action – why hadn’t she smelled the violets or heard the music.
But of course we have to wait until the sun goes down for some real action to occur like – Amanda goes hunting outside for a suspiciously absent Rick – finds someone prowling around and screams. The assailant is *groan* the annoying newspaper man a.k.a Michael Blake super-reporter – who says – [ “What’s with all the noise? I’m sorry if I startled you, but you didn’t have to sound as though the five o’clock whistle went nuts. What goes anyway?” ] Is this what passes for flirting? Him being annoyed that she doesn’t remember who is he at first and then says jokingly that she should win the Olympic medal for screeching if there were such a contest. What a charmer. Not that Rick doesn’t dust off some dated zingers – [“you’re letting this thing knock you off the wall” ]
And when Rick finds them together he’s instantaneously jealous – how fast a worker does he think she is? She only met the creep yesterday.
Anyhoo back at the house in the music room stacks of sheet music have been arranged baring titles like Home again , Kathleen , and Come back to Erin, Mavourneen , and Home on the Range. Hero and heroine spend several pages trying to decipher what it means. But by now, page 62 , Lynch seems to have remembered that our detectives haven’t yet checked out the very room containing the mysterious sobber and strummer and so Amanda and Eric head up to the tower room. It’s not really ironic that Rick cries out amid this scene – first prize for stupidity! But rather for what – not that they haven’t checked out the room – but have forgotten to bring a flashlight. But this pair seems willing to draw attention to their idiocy – When they went to the graveyard – Amanda said why did we waste our time on a wild goose chase , now they admit to the illogical decision of having never checked out the tower room till now. And seeing the small footprints in the dust and wouldn’t you know Ellen has a small shoe size they decide to ask her what she was doing in the tower room only she’s disappeared.
Despite the arrangements of some words their’s a cocktail mix of previous events – Amanda sees another prowler a huskier man and snippy Rick can only say …Amanda just has the power to attract all sorts of lovelorn swains. But he agrees to stay downstairs at night while she stays to keep an eagle eye on Ellen who has reappeared and stayed coyly silent – that includes her pencil.
The music starts again- kinda like musical chairs – kicking off our players – Amanda goes into Madame’s posh boudoir , Rick appears startling her and a bottle of violet perfume breaks. Rick could exclaim second prize for stupidity as he admits he misplaced the hunting knife he was using for protection against the would-be burglar. ( unfortunately – this tidbit is a red herring ) They leave the overpowering room practically gagging and at the top of the stairs Rick finds string rigged up as if to trip someone but it’s not anchored properly he notes , the person who rigged it must be an idiot – so everyone is still a suspect.
Rick introduces the obvious incentive with this odd statement [ “I’m not going to burst out crying after the will is read.”] Who thought he would? But maybe he’s implying that there’s not as much money as they think their will be. Amanda responds with [ “This all goes back to the will doesn’t it” ]- well give the little lady a cigar.
Ellen is seen coming out of the music room while they’re skulking around choking on the violet perfume. And shocked by this revelation they debate her as a suspect well, Amanda definitely doesn’t suspect her calling Ellen a dear little girl. In fact despite having any good moments shared – Amanda sentimentality admits she’ll hate to part from Ellen and Rick after the will is read.
But suspicions pile up on Ellen as a one word note – written on her pad is found in the music room. The message – Charlene which kicks off an odd memory of an old treasure hunt game Amanda recalled playing with Ellen and Carla. The game contained clues more ARDUOUS than amusing. Here’s a sample of the arduous clue – I’m old and straight as can be / Squirrels hide their nuts in me. Which contrary wise Ellen and Amanda guess right away is an old oak tree and find their prize – a dead snake in a box. Since the connection sees even to Rick obscure he says – [“I’ve had just enough of this nutty business. Suppose we just let it ride until tomorrow? Then maybe our minds will be fresher; the brains will be working better -”] I doubt it.
Ellen refuses to explain herself though Amanda coaxes and pleads darling…. some darling. To keep up our suspicious hackles – Amanda goes off for a fog shrouded walk on the grounds and spots the taillights of the retreating prowler driving off – and I just love how Lynch described them as ‘cloudy rubies.’
The creepy reporter shows up again and there is much gibberish – she tries to trade info asking about the mysteriously Charlene – blurts out about the game she recalled playing. Is forced to remember one of the clues – which sent her to Grandmere’s diary. Deciding this could be some sort of breakthrough eager snoop Michael agrees to jimmy open a desk drawer. Matilde shows up and yells for Michael to get out for the first time I’m on her side. Rather than feel all that ashamed the goof takes out a pen and pencil and takes notes on the ensuing argument between Amanda & Matilde.
The last day is coming and rather than stay in a tight knot – they all spread out with Amanda managing to get her dumb self locked in the gloomy basement – the single most gothic moment in the story when she hears someone calling her name. But she’s let out. She’s positive it’s Matilde ( who has all her bags packed as if after the will is read , she’s out of there ) and confronts her. Matilde says I think you are freaked out.
Her face turns blue and Amanda follows her gaze. Through the mist she spies a trenchcoat clad figure throwing Ellen off the dock. Just like eight years ago. Amanda runs and dives in barely saving Ellen. Naturally almost everyone has arrived to see her pull Ellen out -, Michael , and Peter Gregory ( the prowler ) who turns out to be a real estate agent who wants to put condos on Chanson du Lac. Fat chanson. Matilde attempts to make Amanda look insane – by telling everyone this demented girl has been seeing ghosts , and accusing people of locking her in the basement. But Ellen chooses this time to speak up – that Carla pushed her in. But where is Rick. Ellen says he went off with Carla.
The grandfather clocks strikes as the reading of the will begins. Roger reads off the conditions to inherit – if anyone is committed to an asylum that person’s portion is split among the others , if anyone is arrested ditto. Aha! Rick hauls in the demented Carla who blabs to Roger – you blew it! Though he didn’t have much to do with the plan aside from luring them early. The plan included Amanda being locked up for being insane , sending Rick away long enough to forfeit his portion ( Carla had pushed Rick out to sea in a boat without oars. ) and kill Ellen. Naturally the cops are around to drag Carla away screaming about her portion. But Matilde though a cohort seems get off scot-free with Amanda’s blessings – everyone seems to have forgotten Ellen was nearly murdered twice – both with old ladies looking the otherway. Matilde however is rewarded with inheriting the house and money enough to upkeep it – in order to keep the condos away – one of Grandmere’s wishes. Meanwhile the huge sum of money was twenty grand. Nothing to sneeze at but hardly a fortune. Rick however declares – Twenty thousand! Holy cow , Madame sure was with it. Okay , I give – it’s a groovy sum. Now has come the time – to tie up loose ends.
So why didn’t Ellen just tell them straight out about Carla? Because she was threatened. But she did try in her bumbling way to get a message through – song lyrics with repeat words like coming back home should’ve gave them an idea. And Charlene is the feminine of Charles or Carla. Even Amanda groans at that one. And as Amanda is still figuring things out loud – Ellen leaves. Amanda trails off …..Why did Ellen go off and leave us alone here? Now ,how in the world did this girl solve the mystery? Oh , well it ends with a tender , satisfactory kiss.
All in all not Miriam Lynch’s best – it started out with a great gothic theme and turned into a lot of tired hunting about and always in the wrong place. Still not bad.
– **½ stars.
Love the cover reminds me of Jessica Wakefield when she died her hair black same wide nose.
I decided to pair up this story with some groovy pics I got from a fashion magazine circa 1974 – which would be the year when Carla was sixteen – maybe she would’ve been wearing one of these devastating numbers –
The butterfly collector
This pic looks like a cover for a windswept – The Mysterious Shawls or Cairo – err Shores.
Ahh – I love those rattan chairs.
Bring on the bull – bric-a-brac overload.
Well I don’t know what to say – it’s a pink cabbage.
Two Stepford wives about to cross over into another town – do we dare? ( they seem to be asking one another ) – you take the first step. But what about our parasols and groovy gowns?
Okay this could be the outfit to make Rick a slavish idiot.