Friday, June 28, 2024

PPL #3: Good By Stealth, by Henrietta Clandon


Dean Street Press, 2020
originally published 1936
211 pp


Although Good By Stealth was first published in 1936, in the realm of mystery/crime novels centered around poison pen letters it's something new and different.  One, we know who sent these letters  around the small village of Lush Mellish; two, we know that the perpetrator had served time behind bars for her crime, and three, it all comes out of the mind of a single person via a very long flashback.  It is, as author Henrietta Clandon* writes in the foreword, a "story told from the inside; a story which has already been told from the outside by the newspapers."  

The beginning of the novel has Miss Edna Alice out of prison now for  ten months, and writing "the story of the latter part of my life before malicious people and an absurd verdict, unjustly deprived me of my liberty."   As she also notes, she had found herself "in the same category as a mentally unsound woman who posts disgusting letters to her neighbors."  To hear her tell it,  she was a "victim of persecution, one born before her time," and the letters were meant as "constructive" criticisms, meant to help the receivers to do what was right and in the long run, become a better person.  It's not her fault if her letters caused turmoil among the population of Lush Mellis.   

Arriving in the village with her dog and a determination to be an active part of village life, she immediately finds fault with the several visitors who call on her.   The vet's wife she found "odd," the two doctors' wives she found to be  "a snob" and a gossip, but in the long run, she feels that her move to Lush Mellis was "a good one," and goes on to form and to join several circles in the community.   Before long, she finds and points out a number of problems within each group -- in her mind, she's just trying to offer helpful suggestions or to offer the benefit of her experience. Needless to say, neither her presence nor her help are appreciated, and eventually she begins to find it "strange" that her "efforts to help people, and give them a life, led to ingratitude and offensiveness."   She is never at fault, her dogs can do no wrong, and according to Miss Alice, it must be the case that there is a "campaign to wound and hurt" her, one to bring her name "down into the dust"  and get her to leave.   After some time, as a number of incidents involving Miss Alice pile up and she gets no satisfaction from the police or anyone else,  she begins her own campaign, secretly and anonymously, to  "morally and socially" rejuvenate Lush Mellish  doing her "good by stealth," and the letter writing begins. 

 How terrific it is that Dean Street Press brought this book from obscurity out into the light for modern readers!!  While there is a bit of investigating going on towards the end of the novel as the police try to discover just who the poisonous pen belongs to,  there really is not much of a mystery here at all, and that's okay. Good By Stealth is a most unusual and captivating character study capturing the workings of the mind of a woman whose world and her reaction to it exists in a singular, narrow point of view.  While it's impossible to discount that there just may be a kernel of truth in what she has to say about her fellow villagers, any sympathy I have for Miss Alice comes only in minute, tiny amounts, and that only in connection with her dogs.  On the other hand, the book made me laugh out loud here and there and roll my eyes often because of the sheer hypocrisy involved, and it was absolutely fun to read.  A unique perspective on the poison-pen-letter novel, this is one I can definitely recommend to readers of vintage crime/mystery fiction. 

*Henrietta Clandon was one of several pen names of John George Haslette Vahey (1881 - 1938), likely most known for writing under the name of Vernon Loder.  

No comments:

Post a Comment

I don't care what you write, but do be nice about it