Thursday, January 25, 2018

Red Warning: Review

It's one thing to teach philosophy, another to be philosophical when your world has been torn away
from beneath your feet. ~page 113

Jack Bishop is finding it hard to be philosophical about much of anything. The girl he loves, who was once his philosophy student, has run away to Paris to be an opera star after winning a contest. He chucks his job as a philosophy teacher and follows her to France--where he wallows in the misery of (so he thinks) unrequited love.

Elsie Ritter has transformed herself into Mademoiselle Adrienne, the young sensation of the Paris Opera House. She has the world at her feet and a few rich and/or handsome admirers to fall there as well. One such admirer is M. Torrens, a paralyzed older man who shows his admiration by becoming her patron and giving her a fabulous emerald necklace. 

Not long after she receives this gift, she also begins receiving rather ominous "red warnings"--from sinister red statuettes to a red pincushion stabbed through with a miniature dagger to newspaper clippings with threatening words circled in red. She is frightened and turns to one of her other admirers, Baron Gluck, for help. He arranges to have Jack brought into the effort to discover her stalker and to help protect her. Mixed into this story, is the rumors of "The Fox," and international jewel thief who has begun to mix murder with his robberies. A terrifying web draws closer and closer around Elsie and she is nearly strangled to death twice before the plot unravels on a speeding train from Paris to Avignon.

Red Warning (1933) is the fourth detective novel by Virgil Markham. It makes rather a show of claiming to have been written by the French Detective "Gaillard" and to have been "Englished & Rearranged With New Punctuation by Virgil Markham." And I must say there were times when I felt like it had gone through several translations from one language to another before finally landing in English--although I'm quite sure that Markham didn't translate the story from anywhere but his own brain.

It would be so convenient if conversion from another language were involved--then I could believe that something was lost in the translation. Otherwise, I'm just slow on the uptake or there really are some vital connections missing. I felt quite often that Jack Bishop (our hero) and Baron Gluck (the rather murky former [?] jewel thief who seems be helping our hero and his girl) must be passing notes under the table explaining to each other what they were talking about...because what they were really talking about wasn't what they seemed to be talking about. This is conveyed by Markham through facial expressions and meaningful glances:

 A long conflict of eyes followed. There was an unmistakable seriousness in the calm grey gaze of the Baron and a puzzled concentration in Jack's wild glare. Then the younger face relaxed, comprehending, and the Baron's eyes brightened with a meaning flash--a period to his sentence, or perhaps an underscoring.
   "I get you," said Jack Bishop.
   The Baron nodded shortly.

I'm glad Jack gets it. Because I didn't. Later the Baron plays the same tricks with Elsie:

Elsie looked at Gaillard and opened her mouth, but the Baron, with a high gleam in his eyes, raised a finger, as much as to say, "Have patience, all will be made clear." her lips slowly tightened.

But the Baron doesn't make things very clear at all, despite giving lots of "explanations" throughout.

Curtis over at The Passing Tramp says that 

The reader sometimes may wonder whether everything that is happening is really happening. Red Warning reads less like a classical detective novel and more like an Edgar Wallace mystery thriller, with heavy lashings of Georges Simenon and William Faulkner.

Yet when the explanation is offered at the end, one realizes there were clues embedded in the text.  I think I understood it all by then, though I am not completely sure.  

That's more than I can say. I'm completely sure that I didn't understand it all and I definitely didn't pick up on the clues in the text. Curtis also gives a fair amount of background info on Markham and his detective fiction as well as another look at the story itself. Be sure to check out his post from 2012.

The funny thing is--despite the rather strange way the Baron has of communicating with our young friends and the various odd incidents (There's this whole semi-dream scene on board the train that really had me confused. I really thought that Jack was dreaming about someone being shot. But then the guy was really dead. Or was he?)--anyway...the funny thing is that despite all the strangeness and oddness, I really did enjoy this. It was a decently exciting read. It moved very quickly. I read the near-400 pages in one day. Markham has a way of bundling up the reader and pulling her along. I got caught up in the action and only paused briefly to shake my head over this scene or that conversation and then I'd be back in the thick of things wondering exactly who The Fox was and how did s/he fit into all this anyway? An entertaining read and I'll certainly pick up any other Markham titles that I come across. ★★

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