Wednesday, November 21, 2018

43. Darkness of Slumber by Rosemary Kutak

I stumbled on this book at a garage sale on Rachel while returning one of my daughter's friends home from hanging out. I think she was a bit curious as to why I had dragged the bike and trailer on to the sidewalk to get a quick look at the books on the table.  I was quite surprised to find this and two other really old mysteries.  This Pocket Book was the nicest looking one, though I picked up all three as the price was reasonable.

It was written in 1944 and I was curious as to the tone and sophistication.  One often has the impression that culture from the past is often naive or softer than modern work.  I am once again glad to be found wrong on that count.  The human relations and behaviours are complex and just as nasty in this book as in any you find today.  The mores are very different, with assumed gender roles and some straight out racism that I found quite off-putting.  It was nothing direct and only occured in a single line, but a word used in passing in the narrative to describe an African-American servant.  Black people are almost invisible except the very few times they appear to answer a door.  That would have been bad enough, but to have the author refer to that servant using what a profoundly offensive and hateful term really kind of slaps you in the face with how fucked up American society is (not that we in Canada are all that much better).  This kind of thinking was in my parents lifetime, so you see in today's shitstorm of conservative resistance to change in the US, that racism is deeply-rooted.  Sorry, I got sidetracked there but you can't just ignore racism, even in artifacts from the past where they supposedly didn't know any better.  My main point was though it is almost 60 years old and pretty mainstream, this book is very readable today for fans of the mystery genre.

The plot itself is quite complex and multi-layered.  It revolves around a wealthy family, their loved daughter, Eve, who has been in an institution for the last ten years in a state of permanent apoplexy (there was a technical term that I forgot; she is basically a vegetable).  As the back story is slowly unravelled from the perspective of three different characters, you learn that she was perfectly happy and nobody knows why she suddenly went catatonic.  Her husband was a lawyer, an ex-DA who had been disgraced in a failed reform campaign right around the time of her collapse.  There are many more layers to the onion and these start to get unravelled when the doctors discover a new treatment that appears to be bringing Eve back.

I found the ending and the actually revelation to be a bit less intense and dark then the lead-up but the bulk of this book was really great.  Rosemary Kutak is added to my list.

Here is a great passage:
Halsey's office had the old-fashioned proportions of the anteroom, but book-lined walls, a heavy carpet, and curtains at the tall windows gave it more solidity.  Halsey himself looked like the sort of man who brought bellboys and put head waiters on the qui vive.  Not, Marc thought, because he tried to create an impression.  He had just been born that way, to expensive schools and clubs and importance.  His appearance suggested tennis and squash courts, easy masculine companionship over a high-ball and a clever, hard-driving mind.  He would, Marc concluded, be a good man to have for a friend, and a formidable adversary to meet in court. 
I'm always down for some easy masculine companionship over a high-ball!

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