The Girl Cried Murder –
A.k.a Murder my dear
Well I’m down to my last Windswept ( for now ) in my pair off with Dorothy Woolfolk and Miriam Lynch. In some ways it seems unfair to compare the two writers – especially by the time I got done reading the Girl Cried Murder – it’s got Woolfolk’s trademark feminist touch but it is also a darn good gothic mood piece. Some other reasons it maybe unfair to pit it against Lynch is that Lynch’s last book I read – Girl in the Shadows was only 155 pages and had a larger font – a skimpier read with less time to fool around with descriptions and character growth. The only flaw I might have against this offering of Woolfolk’s is the almost dated woman’s movement theme that infiltrates every aspect of the story. It wouldn’t be so bad had I not seen the same father-as-bigot attitude in her last gothic.
The plot –
Melissa is an average 18 year old but feels stifled in her wretchedly small town life , especially under the dictatorship of her father , a brusque misogynist who constantly compares her to her seemingly perfect older brother Bob. Her self esteem is flagging already what with a rejection letter from El Cameno college ( school of cool cars? ) , and the fact that the summer camp she’d gone to as a counselor , for years has suddenly cut back on staff and as luck would have it she was the only one not asked back. But her father doesn’t see this as luck but as a sign of her inferiority. Since her bff has moved away recently Melissa has no one to confide to and runs to the local library and pours her heart to a kindly librarian , Mrs. Anderson. What is she supposed to do? She wails settle for working at the five and dime. But Mrs. Anderson tells her to give the want ad’s a try. Without much enthusiasm Melissa gives it a go and finds one interesting prospect – someone looking for a paid companion for a bedridden old woman. Best part is that it’s a chance for her to get away from her family and town for the summer.
Though doubting her father would agree to this job , Melissa writes a letter to the address and waits a painstaking three days for news. A woman named Mrs. Muriel Newell comes to interview her ( she is the niece-by-marriage of the woman Melissa will be looking after ) and despite her wholesome freckles is no-nonsense and cold. The woman hires Melissa with a you’ll-have-to-do , though admits it’s not as bad as it sounds. The job is merely to prepare trays and read to the old woman. The salary modest. But Melissa doesn’t care. She accepts and must start less than a week away – all without having discussed it with her family.
Naturally her father goes berserk and says what makes you think you can take care of an old lady?! And forbids her to go – but of course there would be no story if he didn’t cave. Melissa is heartbroken by these insults and lack of faith. And the last words for Chapter 1 are – [ I’ve done it!…I’m going away from here at last! ] There’s no Dorothy adage – No Place like Home in this story!
As you can see this is Woolfolk’s less-than-subtle set up for her feminist theme with an overall unsupportive family ( who say nothing so heartwarming like we’ll miss you , or we love you ) in fact she gets an utterly faithless farewell : her father is so angry he refuses to say anything to her, older brother Bob solemnly says – [“if you fall on your face , we’ll be here to pick up the pieces.” ] and even mother warns her – [ even if – if things don’t work out you’ll have us to come back to.” ] Little brother Jody’s cry of “You’ll be terrific!” Doesn’t count because he stands for a new generation – that everyone basically ignores.
I’d feel more comfortable if we somehow knew that Melissa was a bit cautious or even flaky, somehow warranting this reception but to pin it all on the fact that Melissa is a woman seems to suggest that the family is from the stone age ( it’s 1974 – not 1954 )
and that doesn’t seem feasible since the father is pushing Melissa to create a direction ( career ) for herself. His tone of voice seems not so much as a father who thinks his daughter is just inferior – but rather an unlikable burden. He’s painted as an ugly character , more villain than even the villain turns out to be , but his thinking is written off by Mrs. Anderson as a holdover from European days when all men wanted boys to help carry on the work. Woman were considered decorative. And since Melissa’s not that pretty – probably couldn’t be married off. Okay they’re might’ve been spinsters in the 70’s but I doubt if anyone , especially named Melissa turned into a spinster in the 80’s. But we’re made to believe Melissa’s whole identity seems to hang in the balance – rather than the gothic’s usual point of jeopardy , a soul , the heroine’s sanity.
This relationship with her father colors most of the events of her summer, pushing the nagging idea that she is inferior and it starts when Melissa meets, on the bus to her new job – tawny hunk Don. He’s 22 , in his second year of medical school and sits down beside her. Not just to occupy space – he talks to her , listens and is perceptive enough to realizes she left out her father out of her family discussion, she blushes and tries to correct it then reveals either an echo of her father’s thinking -[ ( father ) is right. I didn’t know how to deal with people. Sooner or later , I always manage to mess up a relationship. ] or an accurate character trait. But she’s not just hung up on her father but on her small town life in general – As they take out their lunch Don’s sophisticated sandwiches , fruit & cheese and homemade cookies impress her so much that she’s ashamed of her lowbrow lunch of pb & j and prepackaged devil’s food cupcakes – what she describes as [showing about as much imagination as anyone living in Wellsville.] Don’s however is not that hung up on the idea of lowbrow pb& j – and trades her one of his sandwiches for it.
By the time they arrive in Cranston it’s raining torrents, so dapper Don grabs them a taxi and takes her to Wildemere the mansion where she’ll be staying. On the way Don, though not wanting to upset but her tells her anyway – that the driver didn’t want to go to Wildemere , he believes the place to be haunted but these country folk are pretty backward – he adds.
I must say Woolfolk does a marvelous job describing Wildemere , from black gnarled trees that held those ‘nocturnal horrors’ – bats , to – [ The front door was a massive , intricately carved affair ornamented with grotesques and gargoyles out of some deceased Victorian woodworker’s imagination.] In fact Woolfolk paints a vividly dark , decrepit house with one muted yellow light glowing behind a mullion window – exactly like the drawings on old gothic pbs! Oh , how I would have loved to have seen an oil painted cover for this Windswept of Melissa in a 80’s nightshirt ( cuddling teddy bears? ) – rather than the usual misty nightgown – sprinting from the swampy Wildemere. I guess the pair on front will have to do – even though they look like they’ve been frozen in a foggy game of statues.
Melissa is naturally frightened and admits this to Don- especially as a clasp of thunder illuminates all the horrors of Wildemere namely the gargoyle that opens the door- a grim faced housekeeper who clearly doesn’t want Melissa there but ushers her in. Her name is Mrs. Volke.
Melissa begins to think this has been a huge mistake; her room is gloomy – a wardrobe is described as looking like an upturned coffin with feet ; nobody wants her there and she has little authority. When asked to see Mrs. Newell she is turned down. After eating a surprisingly good supper ( one bonus ) she cries herself to sleep with her father’s imagined taunts of I told you so ringing in her ears.
Things don’t look much better the next day as Melissa meets Mrs. Volke’s frog faced husband , her job is narrowed down to reader as Mrs. Volke bans her from the kitchen , and when she finally meets Mrs. Margaret ( Madge ) Newell , finds her to be spoiled , arrogant and unkind. Mainly because Mrs. Newell writes her off as a young bore. Sticking up for her is Mrs. Newell’s friend , Miss Hillary – also present. But Melissa manages to redeem herself by being able to finish a quote from Alice in Wonderland and Mrs. Newell has the grace to apologize. But it wouldn’t be a gothic without some action and as their resolve is interrupted by Mrs. Newell having an attack. Miss Hillary is panic stricken and fumbles around Mrs. Newell’s medicine for her digitalis. Levelheaded Melissa saves the day until Mrs. Volke enters, sees her with the bottle and becomes irate. Digitalis is not the thing for her attacks – only nitroglycerin. She could’ve killed Mrs. Newell! Miss Hillary admits the mistake was hers. A doctor is called but Mrs. Volke scoffs his presence after all she is a registered nurse , and Mrs. Newell has only grown worse under Dr. Perry’s care ( not to mention her own care hasn’t been so hot. ) Mrs. Hillary leaves but not before warning Melissa to watch out – she believes someone is trying to kill Mrs. Newell!
Right about now the suspects begin arriving or reappearing – Muriel with her ineffectual husband and a hunk name Bruce who Melissa meets in the dead of night when she went down to the library to close some blown open French doors and stayed to set the stage. One cozy fire , and her snuggled in big chair for him to startle awake with his dark looming presence! He manages one compliment – she has a tinkly laugh , before he starts with the gloom and doom – out if you know whats good for you , oh and there’s quicksand bogs on the grounds of Wildemere – so watch your step. If she was really liberated she could crack back – Fine I won’t leave the house without wearing an innertube. Instead she’s all a flurry about the feelings this man , not boy ( Bruce is rather old 32 I think ) , had stirred within her.
There’s a lot a clues dropped as this is more mystery with gothic flourishes – and everything must be mentally tallied to keep up – there’s the fact that Miss Hillary lives in a cute little cottage on the property because she was friends of the Newells and even had a hopeless crush on Henry Newell. Bruce admits he was adopted at the age of five by his great aunt Madge Newell and Henry when his parents died in the quicksand bogs. His father had been helping Henry design a house to rival Wildmere for when he moved to Florida. Even now Madge still wants to follow that dream and move to Florida and sell Wildemere – a plan which apparently suits Muriel and her hubby because they’re talking with land developers who want to plow down Wildemere. Bruce however , who has a kinship with horses and the land is adamant against it. There’s even another girl brought in as rival for Melissa – perfect, golden Stephanie whom everyone assumes Bruce will marry. Melissa whose in a permanent state of suspicion doesn’t know if Stephanie is genuine or condescending.
Mrs. Newell has another attack – severe cramps and once more Melissa stays levelheaded – even to the point of hiding in a napkin odd traces of white powder found around Mrs. Newell’s tea cup. Though Dr. Perry’s there and wants to either analysis a muffin and liquid in a tea cup – or destroy the evidence. Who? Melissa wonders, can I trust. She decides to trust Don giving him the white powder to check , though he seems a little too eager to get his hands on it. I love how Woolfolk manages to make everyone through misunderstandings to be cast in the shadow of doubt!
There’s a chase through the quicksand bog , alas nothing so exciting as anyone dropping in , happens. Mrs. Newell’s marmalade cat , Ivan is strangled and left on her bed. Someone howls and calls Mrs. Newell’s name under her window frightening her so bad that Melissa moves permanently into her room. Melissa’s competence grows in the families eyes – even though one person wants her out. She is conked in the attic. There is a fabulous party, a recreation of Mrs. Newell’s engagement party years ago with vintage music – to announce the engagement of Bruce and Stephanie. That doesn’t quite happen as the guests are sent away due to flood warnings. And a black out gives our mad fiend a chance to abduct Mrs. Newell. She is found by Melissa in the back of a closet but the blow to her head has given her a doozy of a heart attack and she has become paralyzed. Mrs. Newell can now only communicate by blinking. Meanwhile Miss Hillary has some interesting news about Bruce , she found a piece of his torn raincoat in the bogs and it’s a known fact that Bruce could have inherited a deteriorating brain disease , which caused his father to drag his mother into the quicksand years ago. Melissa decides to question Mrs. Newell Do you think Miss Hillary knows who hurt you? Blink , Blink , Blink. And then Bruce comes in the room –
Blink , Blink , Blink, Blink!
Oh I’m not going to do it this time – I’m not going to tell you who the fiend is , you’ll have to get a hold of a copy and see for yourself – But I must say the ending is good and thrilling. The word pyre is used. But did she get her man? – well , lets just say she got one of ‘em. And Stephanie turned out to be a sweet liberated woman who wants Wildemere to start and orphanage and may just get her wish. Even Melissa wants to chip in , only wonders what her fiancee will think , is he liberated enough to handle a working woman? And did she ever resolve the issues with her father? Here’s the hopeful closing lines –
[ If I know who I am , if I know my own worth , even Dad can’t break me down again. And it may not be as bad as I think. If the new world, and the new thinking, can come to
an old woman like Mrs. Newell in a faraway place like Wildemere – maybe, just maybe
it’s beginning to make itself felt in Wellsville. Maybe it’s getting through to my brother Bob. Maybe between us we can get my father to see the light. Maybe not. But I’m going to try.]
* Bruce’s loft over the stables has Melissa ( whose snooping around because she thinks he’s an insane killer ) gets rather starry-eyed by the manly colors of brown , black , tan and cinnamon it’s decorated in – colors he habitually wore.
* Despite being 1974 – Mrs. Newell has Bruce and Stephanie practically married – an arranged marriage, without a hint that this is what either of them want! Only in mystery plots would people be that stubborn or daft – though I recall a movie If it’s Tuesday this Must be Belgium in which one rather meek guy visited his Italian relatives in Venice and due to the language barrier found himself engaged – with a priest waiting till the finished lunch. He excused himself and dove out the bathroom window into the canal!
* Stephanie allows Melissa to borrow a beautiful WHITE dress with a colonial style waist which turns RED when Melissa is dancing with Dr. Perry at the party. One of the sloppiest mistakes I’ve seen, dates I’ll give you they’re numbers and can be easy to mess up but something pertaining to an image – a scene – wow.
All in all best Windswept I’ve read so far! **** Great descriptions , concise writing , a little predictable – but good fun. Definitely recommended
Here’s a good spot for finding your Windswept Needs – Sweet Hearts Romance books – http://sweetheartsromancebooks.com/windswept-series-teen-romance-books/cat_13.html or try ABE –http://www.abebooks.com/servlet/SearchResults?bi=0&bx=off&ds=30&pn=scholastic&recentlyadded=all&sortby=17&sts=t&tn=windswept&x=0&y=0
Rather than Offer some 80’s nostalgic pictures – this book was actually written in 1974 , I decided to share this groovy link for anyone who adores gothic romances like I do – it’s called My Love Haunted Heart – http://hauntedhearts.wordpress.com/ and it’s filled with great gothic covers , reviews and back blurbs. A terrific site!