Helen Vardon's Confession

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Author: R. Austin Freeman (Clifford Ashdown)
Published: 1922
Language: English
Wordcount: 128,109 / 357 pg
Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease: 69.5
LoC Category: PS
Downloads: 2,533
Added to site: 2007.06.20
mnybks.net#: 17378

Through the open door of a library, Helen Vardon hears an argument that changes her life forever. Helen's father and a man called Otway argue over missing funds in a trust one night. Otway proposes a marriage between him and Helen in exchange for his cooperation and silence. What transpires is a captivating tale of blackmail, fraud and death. Dr Thorndyke is left to piece together the clues in this enticing mystery.

Show Excerpt

ith his definite rejection of it, the alternative had, for me, ceased to exist. But now, with the horror of this dreadful menace upon me, I recalled the words that had been spoken, and asked myself if that avenue of escape were really closed. As to my father, I had no doubt; he would never consent; and even to raise the question might only be to precipitate the catastrophe. But with regard to Mr. Otway the manner in which my father had met and rejected his proposal seemed to close the subject finally. He had called him a blackmailing scoundrel and used other injurious expressions, which might make it difficult or, at least, uncomfortable to reopen the question. Still that was a small matter. When one is walking to the gallows, one does not boggle at an uncomfortable shoe.

As to my own inclinations, they were beside the mark. My father's life and good name must be saved if it were possible; and it seemed that it might be possible--at a price. Whether it were possible or not depended on Mr. Otway.


Average Rating of 4 from 2 reviews: ****

Very entertaining. Nice and different to have a female narrating the story. Quite emotional at times.


This novel was a delight.

Not for the story, or at least not only for that. The novel tells the story of how Helen Vardon, a young woman, is manipulated into an unwelcome marriage, then implicated as having apparently caused the suicide of her husband. You can probably guess whether she did it or not. And things resolve, of course, with a bit of help from Dr. Thorndyke, Freeman's scientific hero. It's pretty straightforward mystery, and Freeman handles it well.

But what made this novel so enjoyable for me were the varied and highly independent women characters. Helen herself is of course the prime example. All too often, women in detective stories are passive -- victims to be rescued. And there is a titch of that at work still.

Yet Helen is anything but passive. At every stage in the story, she actively chooses how she will live: she not only refuses to stay in an unhappy marriage, but is determined to make her own living. And she does so by joining a group of independent and talented women who have a sort of artists' collective.

I found it very refreshing to find all this portrayed and portrayed very favorably in an early 20th century mystery story.

I'm not sure that the characters are necessarily fully rounded and believable, exactly. But they are rounded and believable to the same degree that male characters are in Freeman's work. So the book essentially argues for equality.

I don't mean to say that there are no patriarchal notions at work. But in comparison with many other mysteries from the time, this one is downright enlightened.

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