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A Visit to the Book Shelves

November 18, 2008 - Amy Phelps
I'd like to occasionally take a look at older books and authors that you may not have heard of - books that are available on the shelves of libraries or in used bookstores.

This week's featured books come from the same author - Rae Foley. Rae Foley was a pseudonym used by Elinore Denniston. She wrote what we might call 'cozy mysteries' back in the late 1940s through the 1970s. I chose two that our local libraries could get fairly quickly, "Nightmare House" (1969) and "The Girl Who Had Everything" (1977).

In "Nightmare House," a young woman comes to find her new home in New York City is the site of murder and mayhem!

Norma was lucky enough to be adopted by an older couple who had also taken charge of their nephew, Nate. Norma and Nate grew up almost like brother and sister, but when Norma grew older, it became apparent that she was expected to marry Nate and be a "settling influence" on the strange young man. When Nate leaves college, he gets a job as a traveling salesman and one day writes Norma to meet him in New York. Once there, she finds he is already married. She is horrified, and soon practically falls into the arms of old family friend, Owen, who recognizes Norma is taking ill and sets her up to live in his boarding house until she has recovered. Norma cannot stand going home and living down life as a jilted bride, so she stays in the city hoping to get a secretary job and soon meets the strange inhabitants of the house, including a hippie couple, a young artist and his wife, a reclusive writer, and a troubled college student. Norma finds the woman who had her apartment previously was murdered in the house, and soon finds herself in danger - and falling for Owen. But Owen is in deep in this mystery and appears to be dragging Norma down as well. And how is Nate involved in all of this?

I found the book's time period to be evident. Written in the late 60s, there are multiple references to 'hippies' and the drug problem springing up in the city. Women aren't exactly liberated either - poor Norma is not only slapped hard by her paramour because she was "going into hysterics," but also gets locked in her room by him later in an attempt to keep her from seeing Nate. However, none of this detracted from my enjoyment of the book. The mystery is interesting, connecting a drug cartel to the house, and the cast of characters entertaining. While I suspected the bad guy, I never expected the twist I got at the end.

A young woman is determined to stop a wealthy man from ruining her brother's reputation in "The Girl Who Had Everything."

Jennifer Bartlett comes home from a trip with her wealthy uncle to find her brother Jimmy in a mess. He has married Mary Ann Rutherford, a rich society girl, who then turned around and committed suicide. Her father blames Jimmy, especially after it comes out that Mary Ann was pregnant, and sets out to ruin his business and his life. Jennifer sees more than a protective father in Rutherford's actions and sets out to find out why. Through chance, she ends up befriending Mary Ann's mother, and soon finds herself emeshed in crooked businessmen, blackmail schemes, kidnapping and corruption. With the help of her brother, an old family friend, and Rutherford's right hand man who is turning out to be more than just an acquaintance, Jennifer is determined to track down the truth.

I found Jennifer to be a more appealing heroine than Norma in "Nightmare House." Jennifer is determined and tough, even when it might be wiser to back away, and isn't ready to marry just any man. Though the other women in the book aren't exactly strong characters - Mrs. Rutherford is either held prisoner in her house or sent to a sanitarium by her husband and Mary Ann is referred to many times as being mentally slow, while the household staff seems to be taken in by just any good looking man, Jennifer makes up for it. The mystery may not be very heavy, but Jennifer's adventures are pretty thrilling.

So don't be too quick to skip over those older books. You never know what you're going to find!

Does anyone have any good recommendations for older books to be mentioned?


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