It was a tatty little paperback, but it came from a publisher I trust, the title and the author name were interesting, and so I picked it up. I found that it held a story of suspense, set in Paris between the wars, and I decided that I should bring it home, and that it would be a lovely book for Paris in July.
Catherine West travelled to Paris from her home in the USA to visit an older friend. Germaine was the widow of Catherine’s wealthy cousin Harry Bender, and she had been an invalid since the car accident that had killed her husband. She had sent a letter asking her to visit, and Catherine – who had recently broken off her engagement, to the great displeasure of her sister and brother-in-law – was only too pleased to accept the invitation. She had loved Harry, she was very fond of Germaine, and she saw an opportunity to visit good friends in Europe.
Geoffrey Macadam was an English lawyer, who worked for his father’s firm in Paris. Catherine caught his eye, and he was delighted when they were introduced by a mutual friend. He was charmed, but he was worried when he learned who Catherine was to visit. Because his father acted for Madame Bender, and he had been approached by a lady who claimed to be her friend and that she had been barred from visiting – that other friends had been barred from visiting – by the lady’s servants.
He had to be discrete, but her tried to warn Catherine. She was unconcerned; she believed that lady to be eccentric and she knew that Germaine’s maid had been with her for years and was devoted to her.
Geoffrey invited her to dinner, she accepted, and she would be very glad that she had.
When Catherine arrived at her cousin’s home she found that the house had been neglected, that very few of the staff were left, and that she wasn’t expected. She tried to make the best of the situation, she was firm, but it was clear that Jeanne – Hermione’s maid who was managing the household – didn’t want her there.
She found evidence that much was wrong. She had been expected; she saw the letter she had sent to her cousin in a waste paper basket. Many doors were locked, but she established that there were gaps in Henry’s art collection. And she saw Jeanne and Eduardo, the butler, admitting visitors at night when they thought she was asleep.
But she was trapped – like a fly in a spiderweb. Germaine was frail and confused, but she had faith in Jeanne and Eduardo. The doctor had decreed that Germaine shouldn’t be worried, and that nobody should mention her late husband. Catherine knew that something was wrong, but she couldn’t prove anything. And she knew that if she didn’t tread very carefully Jeanne and Eduardo might drive her out of the apartment, and then she could do nothing at all.
Geoffrey did his best to help her untangle the mystery but his hand were tied. Because Germaine was his father’s client and – after his father was visited by Jeanne – he told his son that he was sure that Catherine had no reason to be concerned.
Alice Campbell wrote well. She set up Catherine’s invidious position very cleverly, she managed small revelations that built her story very well, and she portrayed the growing relationship – and the many conversations – between Catherine and Geoffrey beautifully.
The trouble was, there was only one way for the story to go. There was no doubt as to the nature of the conspiracy, or – with just one exception – who was involved. The only question was of degree, and with little depth to the characters and little knowledge of their back stories I wasn’t as engaged as I would have liked to have been.
I liked Catherine and Geoffrey enough to want to follow their story, I enjoyed spending time with them in a Paris that was very well evoked, and I appreciated that the story felt modern – but not too modern – for its setting.
There was enough suspense to hold me – I wanted to know exactly how the story would play out – and the dramatic final act was very well handled.
But I can’t help feeling that there were other authors – contemporaries of Alice Campbell – who might have done better with the story and the characters.