Apropos of nothing, I read this right in the middle of sort-of-accidentally watching a Spanish language series on Netflix called “The Time in Between”, and some of the coincidental echoes, especially in the setting, were a lot of fun.
There was no forward to this book (or if there was, I missed it) to indicate that it was, in fact, not written in the 21st century, but in 1969. (This has happened a few times lately.) I started to twig to it pretty quickly, based on a scattering of clues; the style almost couldn’t be a product of more recent years. It’s very specific to British novels of the time – see also Mary Stewart, D.E. Stevenson, etc. And if the sheer style didn’t give it away, now and then causal tossed-off phrases like “that bunch of pansies” and “the Gyppos” made it pretty clear. So while I enjoyed the writing (except for the pre-PC moments, always surprisingly difficult to stomach), I was a little disoriented for a while. (Let that be your warning if you don’t feel like having to cope with it.)
Oh – Americans aren’t exactly Ms. Bridge’s favorite group, either, if some of the descriptions are anything to go by. Harrumph.
I love the premise. After a sudden death in the family, a family is left without anyone to run an estate. That is, there is someone (a woman! Isn’t it amazing?) but she has her own plans for her life (a career! Will wonders never cease?); she is willing to handle things for a time, but the only solution seems to be for someone to go find the family’s heir, who sailed off with some friends a while back and hasn’t been seen since. So a clever cousin is called in (another woman!!) and recruited to go look for him, armed with very few clues (but, happily, lots of spending money).
Julia is the young woman who is called upon to go hunt down the missing heir, and she embarks on her ‘lighthearted quest” with a confident insouciance most of us can only dream of. Wander Europe with no solid idea where one man might be located? No problem. Make a temporary life in Tangier? No problem.
I’m really surprised, and sad, that I’d never heard of Ann Bridge before. I have been a huge Mary Stewart (no relation) fan for decades, along with Barbara Michaels and D.E. Stevenson and Elizabeth Cadell and so on – this series (because, I find, this book is the beginning of a series) would have been a terrific addition to that shelf. There’s an intrepid young lady, exotic locales, vibrant background characters, sneaky and resourceful enemies, a dollop of romance, and a dash of archaeology – oh, and a glancing reference or two at Golden Age mystery – it’s almost perfect. I would have loved it back in the day.
And I enjoyed it in the here and now. The writing – do I want to say it sparkles? Sure, why not – the writing sparkles. The story canters along happily to a suspenseful climax and a satisfying conclusion, and inspires a chuckle or two along the way (“storks have a capacity for looking disgusted almost equal to that of camels”). It sent me off down various eBay rabbitholes looking for trunks and other décor like that described in the book (“Moorish stuff—you know, antiques, leather goods and brass and so on.”) “Why do you go hooshing off to find him in this completely wild-cat way?” – I want to start using “hooshing”. And “The same to you, with knobs on!”
And one exchange proved that the more things change the more they stay the same:
“Has it ever struck you how apocalyptic the world is, today?”
“Yes, often,” said Julia.
Some notes which might be helpful to other American readers my age or younger:
“Le agradeço mucho su amabildad” is, in Spanish, “I really appreciate your kindness”.
“the Old Lady of Thread-needle Street” is the Bank of England (I don’t know why – I haven’t investigated the story yet)
Tiens! Les petites feuilles – French: Look! Small leaves
Aucunément – French: nothing
Sabe todo – Spanish: (He/she) knows everything
Ah, méfiez-vous de cet homme-là – French: Ah, beware of this man!
The usual disclaimer: I received this book via Netgalley for review.