Kessinger Publishing Legacy Reprints, 2010
originally published 1921 by John Lane
and, at $200 plus $21 for shipping, it's no small wonder that I ended up with more or less generic cover version. It really doesn't matter in the long run, since a) I'm not a collector and b) the text is the same.
John Alexander Ferguson (1871 - 1952) was born in Perthshire, Scotland. I came across a reference that took me to Google books and Ferguson's Gang: The Maidens Behind the Masks by Anna North-Hutton (2013) that has some pretty valuable information about the author. Thanks to the magic of kindle unlimited, I went to Amazon and downloaded it. [And pardon the tangent, because that's how my brain works, but as a sort of relevant aside, there's another book I downloaded called Ferguson's Gang: The Remarkable Story of the National Trust Gangsters, in which I discovered that the "maidens behind the masks" were a group of women concerned with the destruction of rural Britain (especially the Lake District) and took action, so I'll look forward to seeing Ferguson's actual connection with this ladies.] Anyway, according to Anna North-Hutton, Ferguson was a member of the Scottish clergy, and it was during his time as Chaplain at Eversley School in Folkestone that he began writing his books. He was also a playwright and editor of "several books of one act plays" published by Penguin (88). In 1939 he left the school and moved into Duimarle Castle near Culross, where Macbeth killed his wife and child. Later, in 1946 he went back to Hampshire into a house he had been renting to someone else; he died in December of 1952.
Ferguson wrote a number of mystery stories, most of them featuring private detective Francis MacNab (noted by Haycraft as the author's "likeable Scotsman"). I have four MacNab books on the shelf, Death Comes to Perigord (1931), Night in Glengyle (1933) The Grouse Moor Murder (1934), all reprints (the last two came from Coachwhip), and a 1928 Dodd edition of The Man in the Dark, all sitting here unread. I would love to have a copy of Murder on the Marsh but at over a grand, that's not happening. Anyway, after I'd finished The Dark Geraldine, I was wondering if the "McNab" of this story was the same as the MacNab of his other books, so I turned to Hubin for answers. His Ferguson entry for The Dark Geraldine shows that he isn't quite sure if they're the same, with a brief note in that reads
"FM (A different character than in the other FM books?")Here he is a constable who helps out the two main characters here and there, getting them out of a major tight spot in one case.
The action in The Dark Geraldine occurs in the small, "somewhat of a backwater" village of Gart, "lying tucked away in a fold of the West Perthshire hills." The story is narrated by Peter Graham, a "recently qualified" lawyer working for attorney Robert Lawson. As we're told, he remembers very clearly the events of the day that this story begins, because it was the last time he saw Lawson's client Colonel Duncan before he died. As the Colonel was leaving, something strange happens -- a man walks in needing money and sells the Colonel a "curious metal figure," an "idol" he says is from Mexico. No one in the office makes too much of this transaction, and the Colonel goes on his way. However, "two nights and a day later," it seems that the Colonel's body had been found in a ditch very close to his house, with a broken leg and a head wound made by a stone. Unable to get help, he died there from exposure. Lawson's entire demeanor changes after he hears the news, and later, after the office is broken into, his anxiety rises while his mental state goes quickly downward. He invites Peter to dinner one evening saying that he has something to show him, and "a queer tale" to tell, but later, before Peter could even get his hat on, he was brought unexpected tidings of Lawson's death. Lawson's sister lets Peter know that her brother had recently become like a "hunted man," a "silly notion" according to Peter's co-worker Allan Macgregor, a sentiment with which Peter agrees -- that is until he receives a strange letter through the office mail box entitled "The Dark Geraldine," directing him to place "it" at a certain place at a certain day and time. Peter has absolutely no clue what the message means, nor what the "Dark Geraldine" might be.
|novel frontispiece, my photo|
The Dark Geraldine is actually quite a fine thriller, and tonewise, it reminded me a lot of the early spy novels written by John Buchan. The story takes off as Peter and Macgregor realize that the deaths of the Colonel and Lawson may not have been random events, and as they go in search of "the thing called the Dark Geraldine," for which someone is obviously "ready to shed any man's blood." In the meantime they encounter a host of strange characters, none of whom Peter is willing to trust with his life.
While it may seem a little confusing at times, especially coming down to the ending, I found it to be well written, well plotted and intelligent; careful readers who make their way slowly will find connections throughout the story. Like the main characters, I had my own suspicions about the trustworthiness of the various characters who make their way into Peter and Allan's orbit, making the story not only a good thriller, but along with the nature of the Dark Geraldine itself, a good mystery as well. The novel also has its more lighthearted moments so that you get a break from the constant tension. I could say more but anything else coming from me would likely give away too much, so we'll leave it there.
Crappy cover or no, it's what's inside that counts, and this is a good one. Now I really need to get busy reading more of Ferguson's books, so I'd say there's a high probability I'll be talking more about them later. Recommended.