Monday, October 15, 2012

A Question of Time; Review

Lisa is 13 years old and an orphan in 1960.  She comes to America to live with her father's family the Hollands.  Her father was an heir to a fortune and her mother was an Italian princess.  But she has been raised in a Catholic orphanage and doesn't feel privileged...and she certainly doesn't feel at home in her Boston surroundings.  Her greatest shock comes in the house's large ballroom.  For no reason she can name, the room makes her deathly afraid....and even though she has never been to America before, she has a feeling of deja vu when she enters the room.  She knows that something terrible will happen to her.  But it doesn' least not then.  

Her Italian grandparents come forward a year later and wish their only granddaughter to live with them.  The Holland family has several members and unwillingly let Lisa go back to Italy--where she stays for ten years.  In 1970, Lisa's grandparents are dead and she returns to Boston.  She immediately falls in love with her cousin Roly...but she and Roly have little time to develop their relationship before she once again enters the ballroom and is killed by a falling painting (that's one huge, heavy painting!).  What looks at first to be an unfortunate accident on the heels of a practical joke is soon proved to be premeditated murder.  Who could have wanted this beautiful young women to die? 

There are things that I like about this story--atmosphere and the characters of Sue and Roly (Lisa's cousins) are two.  There are things I don't like about this story....the whole hashing and rehashing of deja vu and the meaning of time and do we really "know" the future but repress it thing gets really old.  I wish Helen McCloy had spent more effort fleshing out all of the characters and their interactions and less on the question of time in A Question of Time.  Lisa's American grandmother seems like a formidable and interesting lady...more of her would have been a really good thing.

The murder itself is a bit contrived, but the motive is an interesting one.  And even though I spotted the who before the wrap-scene, I still thoroughly enjoyed the ending.  All-in-all a decent read--a nice middle-of-the road three star-outing.

Her mother had taught her, long ago, to behave as if everything were all right when everything was all wrong. It was lesson women of her generation rarely forgot. (p. 11)

It is a neo-Freudian myth that the best way to learn a foreign language is in bed. Whatever the origin of human speech, it was not sexual, for making love is one of the few social situations where words are totally unnecessary. (48)

Hugh, darling, you know we can no more change the ebb and flow of time and fate than plankton floating on the surface of the sea can change the tides. (Amelia Everett, p. 64)

Civilization is a fiction which becomes a fact only as long as everyone can believe in it. It is the cynic, rather than the rebel who pulls down the whole flimsy structure periodically throughout history. (p. 75)

Wasn't there any way to make them understand that she was no longer looking for happiness? She was looking only for comfort now, and she was completely resigned to the knowledge that this was the beginning of old age. (p. 92)

The figure I saw was not just faceless. It was voiceless too. Without face or voice, there is no identity, and that's frightening, because people without identity are capable of anything. (Sue Everett, p. 194)


Ryan said...

I'm not familiar with this one, but it sounds like something I would enjoy. I must say the cover is wonderful.

Bev Hankins said...

@Ryan: The cover and the blurb on the back make it look/sound way more gothic/HIBK than it really is....

J F Norris said...

I'm not a big fan of McCloy's suspense thrillers though some of them are pretty good. Not read this one. Her detective stories up through the late 1950s, however, are exceptional. Mr. Splitfoot , written in the 1960s, is a brilliant throwback to the GAD novels she excelled at in the 30s and 40s. It may be her best detective novel, too. The one drawback I have found is the more I read her early books the more she is seeming to be the female equivalent of S.S. Van Dine. Too often she has a habit of indulging in urbane excesses and making intellectual allusions that are very dated to a modern reader. All her characters seem to be extremely well read intellectuals who love to quote odd books and writers even I've never heard of. My review of THE DEADLY TRUTH, her 4th book, is coming on Friday. It was really rather good despite the frequent dips into the Pool of Intellectual Trivia.

Bev Hankins said...

John...yeah, I'm not a big fan of the thriller/gothic ones either. This one isn't bad. But it could have been better.