“Darling, let’s face it. Monica was a thoroughly detestable child. But you didn’t—did you, Katy?”
American writer, Ursula Curtiss, had long been on my reading radar. And now I have read her debut book, Voice Out of Darkness, which won the Red Badge award for the best new mystery of 1948.
Katy Meredith is a young twenty-five year independent woman, working as a copy-writer in the city of New York. However, before finding her way to the Big Apple (why is NY called that anyway?), Katy lived in Fenwick, a small town in Connecticut, with her foster-parents who died in a car-crash, leaving all their wealth to Katy. So Katy has a fortune, a good job, and a friend, Commercial artist, Michael Blythe and romance is in the air. Katy should be happy. But she is not. Thirteen years earlier, when Katy was just twelve, she had gone ice-skating with her foster-sister Monica who had met with an ‘accident’. Monica’s last words had been “Katy pushed me.” And now somebody is sending, anonymous letters to Katy accusing her of treacherously killing Monica.
Traumatised by the letters, Katy decides to go back to Fenwick as she feels that there can be no happy future for her unless the letter-writer is arrested. When she discusses the issue with Michael, he reluctantly agrees to her going back but before that brings in NY cop, Lt. Hooper on to the case. When Katy reaches Fenwick, she finds that the community is much the same with its small-town gossip and undue interest in the affairs of others. But there are differences too, like in the attitude of Cassie Poole, her friend who was with her on the day when Monica met her death. There is also Jeremy Taylor, a school-crush of Katy who is now engaged to Cassis but for whom Katy feels a sexual attraction that even her engagement (prior to her coming to Fenwick) to Michael cannot quite overcome. Meanwhile, things get murkier as murders rock the small town. Who is the familiar face wearing the mask?
This was a terrific introduction to the writer. Curtiss really knows how to create an atmosphere of disquiet and sheer terror. Tension is lowered for a moment to let the reader have a breathing space only for it to ricochet up the next moment, leaving one floundering. The characters too are drawn with a sure touch. The only drawback was Katy herself. She has many admirable qualities. She is plucky, courageous, job-oriented despite having a fortune of her own but somehow she didn’t appeal to me. In fact she reminded me of a kat that got the cream, the canary, and everything else besides. The adoption, the ‘accidents’ and even the ending, everything works out a little too well for her.
Has it ever happened to you that you have loved the book but not the protagonist?
First Line: KATY got the third letter early in December, after a snowy dusk had turned into windy darkness and she was back at the little apartment on Tenth Street.
First Published: 1948
Other Opinions: In Reference to Murder
Submitted for Friday’s Forgotten Books @ Sweet Freedom