Showing posts with label Elizabeth Fenwick. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Elizabeth Fenwick. Show all posts

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

A Friend of Mary Rose

I read and reviewed a 1963 suspense novel, The Make-Believe Man (1963) by Elizabeth Jane Phillips. The author wrote this novel, and many others, under a pseudonym of Elizabeth Fenwick. That novel was issued in a new edition in 2022 as a twofer with another of Phillips' novels, A Friend of Mary Rose, originally published in 1961 and the subject of this review. This edition also features an introduction by literary scholar Curtis Evans. 

Mr. Nicholas is a blind, 83 year old man that lives with his son and daughter-in-law. The three of them are moving across town and, as the book begins, the movers are loading up the truck. In keeping Mr. Nicholas out of harm's way between the boxes, handcarts, and movers, Nicholas is ushered into a neighbor's house for safekeeping. Long story short, he spends the night there to reconvene with his son the next day. 

Nicholas has some trunks in the attic that he is really fond of. In hopes they have been successfully moved, Nicholas decides to wait until the neighbor is asleep to journey back to the empty house to investigate. When he enters this dark, empty house in the middle of the night, he hears footsteps in the attic. After wandering up the stairs, and into the attic, he discovers a young girl there. She warns him that a harmful man is downstairs in the house and he is searching for her. Nicholas realizes he's walked into some sort of twisted nightmare with this strange girl and this unknown intruder. 

I wanted this to be something it's not. A Friend of Mary Rose squanders the opportunity to be this white-knuckle, suspenseful tale of cat-and-mouse between a blind guy, a young girl he's trying to protect, and an intruder. It would have been the ultimate home-invasion story, a plot that would loosely be used in the 1966 play Wait Until Dark, which was adapted into the classic Audrey Hepburn thriller. But, Phillips' doesn't capitalize on this plot thread, but instead just jogs in place with little forward progress. By the book's end, I had become fatigued with the plot development and the safe space Phillips created for these very vulnerable characters. 

As a twofer, The Make-Believe Man is a more superior novel and worth the price of admission. A Friend of Mary Rose is a free bonus that isn't a mandatory read, but may be worth exploring if you like Phillips' brand of writing. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Monday, April 25, 2022

The Make-Believe Man

Elizabeth Jane Phillips (1916-1996) authored nearly 20 stand-alone novels over the course of thirty years. Often, she adopted the pseudonym E.P. Fenwick or used Elizabeth Fenwick to write her crime-fiction and suspense books, Her 1963 suspense novel The Make-Believe Man was nominated for an Edgar Award by The Mystery Writers of America. It was originally published in hardcover by Harper & Row, then published again by Avon in a paperback edition. Thankfully, Stark House Press has recently reprinted some of Fenwick's novels including The Make-Believe Man. It is in a 2022 twofer with the author's A Friend of Mary Rose (1961) and a wonderful, informative introduction by Curtis Evans.

Norma is a single mother and widow living temporarily in Detroit with her mother, Ms. Moore. In the book's opening pages, Ms. Moore, is leaving town for a few days to visit Norma's brother. She provides adequate instructions on what to do in her absence and the conversation brings up a former tenant that Ms. Moore once had at the house. His name was Cliff and he was a fine renter that was asked to leave to make room for Norma and her son Jimmy months ago.

In Ms. Moore's absence, Norma is enjoying the house and her clerical job at work. Jimmy is fond of the elderly neighbors and often goes there after school. But, one night Cliff shows up at Norma's front door asking to come inside. Cliff is really peculiar, has a black eye, and explains to Norma that he just needs a few days to rest and then he'll be moving on to another town and job. Norma says no and is genuinely creeped out by Cliff's odd behavior. Cliff finally leaves, but when Norma checks the mantle, the extra key to the home's front door is now missing. 

Norma has the locks changed, but the suspense begins to build as Cliff makes a stop at Norma's work to ask about her whereabouts. Then, he calls her on the phone and suggests that Ms. Moore is really his mother too. But, she isn't, he's just psychotic. He becomes a raging lunatic when he learns his key no longer opens the front door. From there, The Make-Believe Man transcends into some really scary happenings. 

According to my research, Fenwick really loved these “domestic menace” types of stories and it is clear she perfected it based on the quality of The Make-Believe Man. Cliff is a scary individual, made downright terrifying when readers learn about his turbulent past. I enjoyed Norma's strength, not only as a mother, but as a widow and fighter. There's a sense of intrigue when a detective begins an investigation to find Cliff. Fenwick also sprinkles in an admirable character named Benning as Norma's potential love interest and co-worker. The three characters collaborate well and I enjoyed the police procedural styling of the book's second half.

Overall, there's nothing to dislike about Fenwick's writing style or this book. Stark House Press has made a wise choice in reprinting this lost classic. It's a tightrope of suspense, scares, and action that culminates in a harrowing, unforgettable ending. In other words, you should read it right now. 

Get the book HERE.