Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Review: THE GREAT IMPERSONATION by E. Phillips Oppenheim

book cover Original Publication Date: 1920

Genre: Mystery

Topics: Espionage, Germanic horde, WWI, love, civilization vs savagery


Review by heidenkind:

Sir Everard Dominey, living in self-exile in Africa, wakes up after a night of drinking too much whiskey to find himself the guest of Leopold von Ragastein, his doppelganger. The two have many similarities beside their appearance: they both have a natural gift for languages, and Ragastein is also in exile after killing his mistress' husband in a duel. The only major difference between them is that Ragastein is German and therefore EVIL. After spending the night prying into the life of Everard Dominey, Ragastein and his friend, Dr. Schmidt, send Dominey out into the African desert with no water and nothing but extremely salty food, never to be heard from again. Then, taking on the identity of his double, Ragastein goes to England, where he, impersonating Everard Dominey, is in the perfect position to be the greatest and most insidious German spy of all time. But will he have the heart to do what the Kaiser asks of him? And is Everard Dominey really dead?

I decided to read The Great Impersonation after I "overheard" Melody from Redeeming Qualities and Evangeline from Edwardian Promenade talking about it on Twitter. I'm so glad I did! The Great Impersonation is an absolutely great story, good enough for me to overlook the constant references to Rosamund Dominey, Everard's homicidally insane wife, as "childlike" (yes, his wife is insane and homicidal, YET CHILDLIKE. You're hooked now, aren't you?).

As soon as "Dominey" returns to England, the reader is sure two things are going to happen: Leopold's going to fall in love with Dominey's wife, and the real Everard Dominey is going to show up and spoil everything. Of course, this should be something the reader wants to happen, since Leopold is GERMAN and therefore EVIL. But in actuality, Leopold is kind of upstanding and honorable, and—now that he's in England—demonstrates some divided loyalties between England and Germany. It's almost enough to make one think The Great Impersonation might be the only book in all of 20th century English literature where there's a good German character. Almost.

I also liked how The Great Impersonation is a cross between several genres. Yes, you have the whole spy/WWI plot; but it could also arguably be classified as a gothic mystery, what with the ominous Dominey homestead (filled with secret passages, hauntings, superstitious locals, and an adjacent cursed forest, OF COURSE) and the disappearance of Roger Unthank; as well as a coming of age tale.

Basically, if you're looking for an entertaining, fast-paced novel with mystery, romance, and twists, you can't go wrong with The Great Impersonation. I'll definitely be reading more of E. Phillips Oppenheim's work in the future!

Download The Great Impersonation by E. Phillips Oppenheim at Project Gutenberg|Librivox

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Review: THE MYSTERY OF THE HASTY ARROW by Anna Katharine Green

book cover Original Publication Date: 1917

Genre: Mystery

Topics: Love, tragedy, betrayal, ambition

Review by heidenkind:

In the middle of a museum gallery, a young woman lies dead, an arrow shot straight through her chest. An older woman claiming no connection with the victim is found hovering over the body, muttering incoherently. Was it murder or a tragic accident? And who was the young woman? The aged detective, Mr. Ebenezer Gryce, is on the case to find out.

Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows I like to make fun of Anna Katharine Green, but The Mystery of the Hasty Arrow is actually a pretty decent book. The mystery is super-twisty and the story has the scope of a Greek tragedy.

Naturally the woman hovering over the girl's body is the initial suspect, but Gryce doesn't think she committed the murder. After locking down the museum and questioning all the visitors, Gryce discovers one of the men who witnessed the murder actually knew the victim, kinda sorta. You see, he fell in love with her at first sight and then chased her all the way across the Atlantic on a steamer ship from Europe to New York, never introducing himself, just always watching. STALKER MUCH? Gryce thinks Mr. Travis is a pretty weird dude, but still doesn't like him for the murder. Fortunately Travis has some useful information: the name of the girl (Angeline Willetts) and the fact that she was traveling with a French woman. Gryce and his team search all the New York hotels, only to discover that Angeline Willetts' traveling companion up and walked right of their hotel shortly before the murder took place. Dun dun dun!

And that's just the start of the novel.

Don't get me wrong, The Mystery of the Hasty Arrow has a few major problems. It's way too long—a quarter of it is all about the chase to find the French woman, and the denouement is inSANEly long—but overall I really enjoyed it. One of the things that always bugs me about Green's books is that everything is as it appears. The grieving yet ditzy widow is actually just a grieving airhead, the dangerous vagabond is actually a dangerous vagabond, etc. That's not the case in this book, though! No one is as they first appear, and the conclusion to the story definitely surprised me and went in a direction I never expected. I mean, yes, there are still some WTF scenes and everything is superfluously dramatic, but in the case of this particular story it didn't seem as weird as it has in some of Green's other works.

Basically, if you've been thinking about trying one of Anna Katharine Green's novels, I'd recommend The Mystery of the Hasty Arrow. It's definitely the best Green mystery I've come across so far.

Download The Mystery of the Hasty Arrow by Anna Katharine Green at Project Gutenberg|Librivox|GirleBooks