Wednesday, January 17, 2018

2. The Death Wish by Elizabeth Sanxay Holding

I would cross some serious moral lines
to get my hands on this copy
I finally got my hands on some Elizabeth Sanxay Holding, thanks of course to Dark Carnival, who had two double-volumes of hers by Stark House.  Part of the challenge with her work, aside from being one more forgotten woman genre author, is that it is not clear what her actual last name is and thus what letter of the alphabet under which she should be filed.  It was H at Dark Carnival and one of the recommendation quotes at the back refers to her as "Mrs. Holding" so I will check their first but will continue to look under S as well.  One never knows.

Here is a much better review and appreciation of Holding.

I was not disappointed.  It was not entirely what I expected, though what I expected is hard to say as I tried to keep an open mind.  The story takes place in a small wealthy town somewhere in the Northeast, limited to a very small group of neighbours: a super wealthy family, a wealthy but striving couple of whom the jealous older wife holds all the money and a bohemian couple.  A young friend of the wealthy family comes to stay and starts to have an affair with the artist husband of the bohemian couple, who is painted very clearly as a self-indulgent lazy ass.  His wife drowns.  Trouble ensues.

The protagonist/investigator is a unique character.  He is the young, attractive, athletic and independently wealthy nephew of the rich couple who has come for a weekend visit.  He is almost Randian in his self-awareness (though not in a dickish way).  He prides himself on a kind of Platonic approach to life where he asks questions and trusts his own judgement.  It feels very proxy-ish and I kept wondering how much Holding was project her own fantasies on this very masculine character.

She is similar to Millar in her unsparing look at her characters without being as mean as Highsmith (you can see where my unconscious expectations seep in when reading a new female thriller writer).  She seems to really like all the characters and kind of feel sorry for them.  There are some strange notions of love and romance here, particularly in the way the nephew seems to idealize the young women who comes off as a complete nightmare.  There is also a very good twist that I suspected was coming but it caught me off guard.

I really enjoyed this book and it left me with many questions about Holding and her work.  I will be reading more in the hope for enjoyment and answers.

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