Book Review – Rainsong

  • Title: Rainsong
  • Author: Phyllis A. Whitney
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 07/14/2015

Books are like wine, sometimes they need to sit for awhile before one reads them. One would hope it would improve the vintage – sadly this was not the case for this romantic suspense novel from 1984. It had been sitting on my shelves for awhile, and I finally took it down to read it. And it was a fast read – unfortunately that’s one of the few things it had going for it.

I first discovered Phyllis A. Whitney in junior high – and I actually really liked her books, and read as many as I could find, searching libraries and used book stores to find more. Then I became bored by the entire romance genre and stopped reading them.

But I still had a few books that I had gotten through a book club lying around, waiting to be read – so I finally picked up this one and read it.

Hollis is a songwriter, who at 18 is gutsy enough to sneak into the hospital room of her favorite singer, Ricky Sands, and play him some of her song. He likes her music, and likes Hollis as well. Before long, they are married (though he’s nearly twice her age – eeeeewwwwwh) and she’s writing hit songs, while he parties his life away.

Hollis is kept in an expensive New York City apartment, basically forbidden to go out. Ricky doesn’t even invite her to watch his concerts, though she sneaks out, occasionally, and watches her husband perform.

Eventually, Ricky’s manager introduces Hollis to Coral Caine, a soap actress that Ricky’s been having and on-again-off-again-on-again affair with since before Ricky even met Hollis. But after their first meeting, Coral mysteriously “kills herself”. Within what seems to be a few days or weeks later (but is actually a year, as later events make clear) Hollis’s husband, Ricky, also commits suicide.

Reeling from loss, Hollis accepts an invitation from a strange, elderly, rich woman, who once knew Hollis’s father, to stay at Windtop, her huge, creepy, mansion of a house in Cold Spring Harbor, New York. And that is the good part of the novel. Once Hollis arrives at Windtop, the novel turns into a typical Whitney storyline: creepy house, strange people, secrets from the past that won’t die, and a lot of coincidences. Hollis, with very little agency at all, gets swept up in events. There’s no obvious romantic pairing at first, and the conclusion has Hollis attempting to cross a pitched, slate roof, in Winter, that’s covered with snow, ice, and running water from fresh rain. Sigh. She escapes of course. And finds a new man in the very last chapter, of course. Double sigh.

Rainsong wasn’t boring – it actually moves at a fairly good clip, but it’s flat. The characters aren’t predictable, but we just could care less about them. There’s no chemistry – not between Hollis and the first guy who chases her, nor between her and anyone else. And there are things about this novel that creeped me out. The marriage between 18-year-old Hollis and 30-something Ricky was just… eewwww. That he keeps her locked up in a nice Manhattan apartment, but with no friends, no one to even talk to was totally not cool – and this is the love of her life? The mysterious two suicides, which I really expected to be murders, – should have been more of a focus of the plot (as should have been the mysterious coral-colored roses left at both crime scenes) but everyone seems to just accept what they are told. Even Hollis, who doesn’t believe either death was suicide, doesn’t ever seem to even say, now “wait a minute”, and is oh so willing to just disappear.

Windtop is actually a cool-sounding house, even the burnt-out wing, destroyed in a fire six years previously. (And never cleaned-up. No one in this novel ever seems to be able to acknowledge the passage of time.) I would have loved to see Hollis come into Windtop and propose making the place into an expensive luxury bed and breakfast. If she wasn’t going to write songs anymore, she needed something to do. But, alas, the author totally misses that opportunity.

Also, throughout the novel, I found lines here and there that just seemed really, really disturbing – basically supporting the whole, “women are nothing without a man” myth.

Not recommended.

Book Review – Good Night, Mr. Holmes

  • Title: Good Night, Mr. Holmes
  • Author: Carole Nelson Douglas
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 07/10/2015

Good Night, Mr. Holmes takes the familiar Sherlock Holmes short story, “A Scandal in Bohemia”, and turns it on it’s head, telling the story from Irene Adler’s point of view. It also expands the story into a full-length novel. The author gives Irene her own Watson, Penelope Huxleigh, whom Irene calls “Nell”. Nell narrates the story, and she is interesting in her own right. The daughter of a parson, when her father dies, she’s left on her own. Nell does OK, getting a job as a governess. However, when her family leaves England for the wider Empire she is left behind. She gets a very low-paying job in a London shop, room and board included, but is soon set-up by one of the other girls, and loses her job – accused of stealing.

Nell is bereft when she nearly literally runs in to Irene, who takes her under her wing. Irene is independent, free-spirited, and a struggling Opera singer and actress. Nell and Irene begin to share lodgings. Irene helps Nell get her revenge on the girl that got her sacked, then urges Nell to find better work. Nell takes a short course and learns how to type, and before long she’s making an acceptable living as a temporary typist.

Irene meanwhile, gives the occasional concert, and occasionally solves, “little problems”. The two are surviving, in the middle of a expensive, Victorian city – but by their own wits.

Irene gets a commission to find the “Zone of Diamonds” a mysteriously missing piece of the French crown jewels. Sherlock Holmes, who only appears on the periphery of the novel, is engaged for the same.

Irene investigates the Norton family, and eventually Nell gets a job as Godfrey Norton’s typist and clerk at the Temple bar (he’s a barrister).

Irene’s star as a Opera singer begins to rise, and she eventually heads to Milan, then Prague, and finally Bohemia (in the modern day Czech Republic), where she is romanced by the crown prince.

Nell meanwhile has her hands full, as Godfrey’s paralegal for all intents and purposes.

The nice thing about this novel, and what I really enjoyed about it, is that despite the description on the back – it is not a romance. This isn’t a story about Irene or even Nell meeting their future husband, Godfrey. Rather it’s the tale of two women surviving in harsh circumstances without compromising their own natures. And then there’s a mystery and missing jewels.

I quite enjoyed the book. The author is American, but the historical research rings true, though the occasional term is used that seems either out of context by time or country. Still, I liked it, and I’m glad it wasn’t a typical romantic suspense novel. I would like to read more in the series.