Reviews by Leah A. Zeldes

The Seven Secrets

by William le Queux

An ill and elderly man is found murdered in his bed, with a mysterious wound. A doctor, the beloved of the dead man's sister-in-law, narrates, while the principal detective, his friend, is a tea merchant, although the tea business never figures in.

The pace drags, and the story, filled with unlikely coincidences, provides little detail of the detection process and leaves various loose ends.

Reviewed on 2015.11.01

Wild Wives

by Charles Willeford

Hard-boiled detective fiction in the noir tradition of sex and violence. A gritty, but not-too-bright private detective and somebody else's wife are the main characters. There's only one wife, despite the title, the detective does no detecting, and it's otherwise forgettable. At least I hope so.

Reviewed on 2015.11.01

Cecilia, Memoirs of an Heiress, vol 1

by Fanny Burney

Fanny Burney's delightful 18th-century comedy of manners inspired Jane Austen's title "Pride and Prejudice," and lovers of Austen should definitely enjoy it. Burney's writing is clear and surprisingly modern. She pioneered development of the English novel, and it's a real shame her works are so little remembered.

Beautiful and bright, young Cecilia Beverley, an orphan, has been bequeathed a substantial legacy by her uncle. Her uncle's will stipulates that any man Cecilia marries must take her surname and appoints as her guardians three very different men: Devile, a haughty man of ancient pedigree with an exaggerated view of his self-worth, and little inclination to act on Cecilia's behalf, since doing so might require interaction with persons of less status; Briggs, a miser, who has charge of Cecilia's fortune till she comes of age, and won't let her have a penny more than her allowance before then; and Harrel, a spendthrift man of fashion who's married to Cecilia's childhood friend, Priscilla.

By order of her guardians, Cecilia leaves her quiet country home, and goes to live with the Harrels, who lead a glittering and active social life, going out to parties and entertainments nightly, and spending much more than their income. Cecilia is much pursued by fortune hunters, among them the unpleasant Sir Robert Floyer, an associate of Harrel's whom the latter seems determined to throw into her path and the plotting Mr. Monckton, a country neighbor of Cecilia's, who, though married, is secretly determined to keep her single till his elderly wife dies.

Ultimately, Cecilia meets and falls in love with Mortimer Devile, her guardian's son, and he with her, but he believes she's engaged to first one, then another of her other suitors. Once that's sorted out another impediment interferes: His prideful family will never countenance his giving up their name to marry Cecilia, no matter how much money comes with her.

A long and complex novel, full of humor, "Cecilia" is richly populated with unique and well-drawn characters, types with parallels today. Burney takes satiric aim at the British high society of her era, with an attention to social issues unusual in romances. This novel isn't light reading there are nearly 30 characters and three volumes and certain passages that were likely hilarious to 18th-century readers seem overlong and peripheral to the action today, but it's well worth the effort.

Reviewed on 2015.11.01

The Moorland Cottage

by Elizabeth Gaskell

Gaskell's gift for description fills this book, but the plot is a sorry one.

Young Maggie Browne grows up unappreciated and put upon by her peevish mother and selfish brother, yet remaining sweet, unspoiled and loving to them. She and the local squire's son fall in love, to his ambitious father's dismay. Then, Maggie must make a devastating choice between her brother and her lover.

Reviewed on 2015.10.24

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