Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Old Battle Axe/The Obstinate Murderer

I chose Elisabeth Sanxay Holding's The Old Battle Axe (1943) to help me fulfill my final category for the Title Fight Challenge and decided to read both it and the companion novel, The Obstinate Murderer in this Ace Giant edition. I first sampled Holding's work in 2014, using The Unfinished Crime as an entry for my Vintage Bingo Challenge. I mentioned at the time that while I appreciate Holding's skill in her particular method of mystery/suspense story-telling, I didn't think her style was my cup of tea any more. I enjoyed the more psychological, suspense-driven story much more in my twenties than I do now. 

And this time, I found her style to be almost in the stream-of-consciousness vein. Conversations are a bit difficult to follow with various participants saying whatever pops into their heads--irrespective of how much off-target it may be. It was particularly apparent in The Obstinate Murderer. Not only were the characters having such conversations amongst themselves, but the reader is privy to the main character's (Van Cleef's) running inner commentary--which was very stream-of-consciousness. Perhaps my concentration wasn't what it needed to be, but it seemed to me that Holding was constantly presenting the reader with allusions and references hidden in half-remarks and unfinished thoughts that were never completed. I spent my time throughout each story feeling as though I had missed several pages somewhere. I absolutely get the appeal of her style for others, but she's just not for me. ★★

In The Old Battle Axe we are introduced to Madge de Belleforte who seemed to be a loose woman in life and in death. She arrives from Paris and shocks her sister Sharley Herriot with her appearance, a tendency to knock back double martinis, and an eye for anything in trousers. She hasn't even settled in at her sister's country house before she is found dead in the street--painted cheeks, dyed hair, and all. Sharley can't believe it and tries to convince herself that Madge isn't really dead. Questioned by the police, Sharley finds herself saying she had never seen the woman before. But why does Silas, her chauffeur and the man who brought the ladies home from the dock, back her up in it? And why does Cara, Sharley's niece, daringly and convincingly impersonate the dead woman? Only Ramon Honess, a young playboy who stands to inherit a fortune from Madge's will, sees through the deception. And his unexpected appearance threatens exposure of the deception and forces a cornered killer to strike again.

The Obstinate Murderer (1938): The rich playboy Van Cleef, our hero and reluctant amateur detective, is called upon by Emelia Swan to help her with a situation. She claims that someone is trying to backmail her. Along the way, he picks up Russell Blackmon, an abrasive young man of advance intellectual capacity whom he encountered when Russell was a child. But when they arrive at the country guesthouse they find themselves in the midst of a sinister web of fear and terror that seems to hold the occupants in its grasp. Van Cleef wavers between trying to make sense of the horrible chain of events and dabbling in a bit of romance with the young woman whom Emelia has accused of the blackmail. There are several attempted poisonings--harkening back to the suspicious death of Emelia's husband, Bill Swan, but things get desperate when the actual deaths occur.

For more positive reactions to Holding's work (particularly The Obstinate Murderer), please be sure to check out Curtis's post at The Passing Tramp and Sergio's post for Vintage Bingo last year at Tipping My Fedora.

Each of these novels have a brunette on the cover and, so, this counts for the "Brunette" category on the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.


fredamans said...

The Old Battle Axe. The title sure is promising... I think I'd steer clear of The Obstinate Murder though.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoy Holding - sorry you had a bit of a mixed reaction to these though Bev :)