Sunday, December 29, 2019

104. Catch-As-Catch-Can by Charlotte Armstrong

I have been looking for Charlotte Armstrong for quite a while and found one here in Berkeley at Moe's and then found four more at Walden Pond books in Oakland!  It was almost too much and in the end I decided to take them all.  It turns out my mother was a big fan of Charlotte Armstrong from back in the day and was happy to have them back in her life.  She picked one at random (her memory is that she often had good stories with children and she remembers specifically one with a child in an airport).  I started with this one as it is was roughly in the middle of the publishing dates (1952) in the logic that she would be in her prime.

The story begins a little falteringly for my tastes.  I didn't find all the characters and their motivations totally convincing. Dee Alison's favourite and adventurous uncle returns home with a strange long-lost 18-year old daughter who is bizarrely naive.  He dies shortly thereafter, leaving her a fortune.  She speaks french and english fluently but could barely write, knows how to order at a fancy restaurant but doesn't know what phones or hospitals are.  I couldn't really understand where she was supposed to be from.  In any case, she is the driving force in the plot as she becomes enamoured with Dee's fiancé who starts to reciprocate, despite himself.  The uncle dies and becomes the ward of Dee.  Things are really thrown into chaos when the girl runs away and we learn belatedly that she ate some canned beans with botulism and needs to get treatment in 24 hours or will die.

The second half of the book actually got quite thrilling and exciting as various people, all with different motivations try to find or deliberately not find the girl.  There is another stupid, scheming cousin in particular who wants her to die so he can inherit her wealth; a well-meaning but unrealistic old mystic friend of the uncle who wants to protect the girl from evil and various other selfish people.  It becomes an exciting chase around LA with all kinds of crazy complications that cumulated up into a truly thrilling ending despite some of the original characters not being so well-founded.


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