“…there are old women living in big houses in all the country districts in France. Sometimes one remembers – they could die and who would know? They have no friends because they desire none – they have met life alone, they meet death alone.”
Sarah Hollis, nursing a broken heart after her fiancé breaks off their engagement, is advised by her friends Pat and Polly to take a vacation which will take her mind off Simon. The girls find a brochure advertising Abercrombie Villa in France and decide to holiday over there with Sarah reaching France a few days earlier than the other two. On her way to the villa, she runs into Arthur Crook and the local Cure. From the latter, she comes to know of the curious history of the villa. Having been built by Old Mr. Abercrombie, the villa passed on to his daughter after his son ran away from home. Miss Abercrombie, buried herself in the villa, hardly interacting with anyone outside and being attended by a couple: Martin and Marie Ribaud. After her death, which had occurred recently, the Cure informs Sarah, the villa passed on to a distant relative, Mrs. Abercrombie, the woman who advertised the villa as a place to stay, she herself not being interested in staying all alone in the desolate villa.
When Sarah finally reaches the villa, she finds Madame Abercrombie on the verge of leaving, with Martin seeing her off. Martin too has to leave as his daughter is pregnant and needs her parents with her. His wife, Marie, has already left. After showing Sarah around the house and explaining things to her, the two leave and Sarah is left alone in the house that Crook had called the ‘House of Usher’.
The next day, Sarah almost has a fatal accident and two strangers walk into her life, one of them claiming to be the real Abercrombie heir. Is this the adventure that Sarah needed to get over her break-up?
This belongs that period of Gilbert’s writing when the old Red Scourge is gone, replaced by the flashy yellow Rolls, The Superb, and when Crook has become ‘Uncle Arthur’ to all the young damsels in distress (to be fair, the heroines show a lot of spunk). More of thrillers than mysteries, these books range from middling to interesting. This one is vastly entertaining because when Crook gets going, it is hard to get a word in… The only thing I didn’t like was the pejorative ‘frog’ being used for the French repeatedly but then there is fun poked at the English too so it kind of balances out.
First Line: The little red car, bumping from stone to stone down a lane that, thought Sarah, in a more civilised country would have been marked Bullocks Only, rounded its final bend and stopped dead on the edge of the water splash about half as deep as a canal.
Publication Details: Massachusetts: Curley Publishing Inc, 1965.
First Published: 1965
Pages: 339 (Large Print)
Series: Arthur Crook #42
Source: Open Library
Submitted for Friday’s Forgotten Books @ Todd Mason’s excellent blog Sweet Freedom.