Friday, June 26, 2015

Stark House-Stranger At Home


Way back in the Fifties I read one half of an Ace Double mystery novel called Stranger At Home. I really took to it. The writing was swift, dramatic, elegant. Supposedly it was written by the actor George Sanders. But even in my early teens, clueless as I was, I just assumed he hadn't written it. I'd read here and there about "ghosted" books.

The real writer turned out to be Leigh Brackett. I've mentioned this novel before because it's a fine whodunit set in the Hwood of the late Forties. For its time it's a blunt novel. Not even the protagonist Michael Vickers is much of a hero. The story centers on Vickers returning from the dead--one of his three friends (or maybe all of them) pushed him off the boat they were sailing on). Drunk, he nearly drowned. But he survived to return a few years later to find out what had happened to him that drunken night. He doesn't have amnesia, he just can't recall the moment he was pushed off the boat.

For years there were rumors that Brackett had farmed the book out but I don't think so. The writing is purely hers. Those sweeping sentences, those atmospherics, those bitter unhappy people. You find them in her science fantasy, her westerns, her mysteries. If there's an influence here it's Raymond Chandler, one of her idols. The difference is that Vickers, unlike Philip Marlowe, doesn't observe everything at one remove. He goes through the novel trying to find the culprit--and learning in the process what an arrogant ruthless bastard he was to those around him.

The book opens on a party scene that I'd out up against any party scene I've encountered in fiction sin a long time. Brackett must have known a lot of drunks because she gets them down just right.

Even though it was work for hire this is a book that belongs on the Brackett shelf. It's one of her finest novels.

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