Septimus seizes chances to be kind

Septimus is another of William J. Locke’s rollicking tales of eponymous characters who knock the traditional notion of the fictional hero into a cocked hat.

The death of her husband from delirium tremens within six weeks of their wedding turned Zora Middlemist off marriage.

Septimus by William J. Locke

1909 bestseller #10. Project Gutenberg eBook #14395. My grade: B+.

Since Zora is well endowed physically and financially—and totally lacking in ambition—the widow’s a walking male-magnet.

Septimus Dix, an eccentric inventor, is the first to fall for her charms.

Septimus is a kind and honest man, totally incapable of remembering an umbrella or firing an incompetent servant. He tells Zora:

I shouldn’t like to pass my life without dreams, Zora. I could give up tobacco and alcohol and clean collars and servants, and everything you could think of—but not dreams. Without them the earth is just a sort of backyard of a place.

Next to fall is Clem Sypher, “friend of humanity,” and inventor of Sypher’s Cure in which he believes with religious fervor.

With Zora favoring neither, Clem and Septimus become friends.

Meanwhile, Zora’s younger sister has been dumped by a man who left her pregnant.

Septimus offers Emily the protection of marriage, with the understanding that after the baby is born she can divorce him and not even Zora need know the child’s origins.

As silly as the plot sounds, Locke makes the absurdities arise so naturally from the goodness and foibles of the characters that it not only seems plausible but also reveals some home truths about faith, love, and having a dream.

©2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Royal Box: Murder with Happy Ending

Dust Jacket shows theater party in The Royal BoxThe Royal Box is a murder mystery with an epilogue that seems added to let the story end on a upbeat note.

Frances Parkinson Keyes provides a cast of characters in order of appearance. The book jacket provides an account of the love affair in 1926 that led to the murder-by-cyanide in 1951. The fact that both those reader aids were thought necessary in a work of popular fiction shows how complicated the novel is.

The poisoned man is Baldwin Castle, newly appointed ambassador to an oil-rich Middle Eastern nation. Years before, after being jilted by an English aristocrat, he’d had an affair with actress Janice Lester.

He left her pregnant.

When Castle and his new, second wife pass through London, they are entertained with a theater party in the Royal Box at the theater where Janice Lester is starring.

The guests include the woman who Castle thought jilted him; the ambassador of the country to which Castle has been assigned; Janice, her husband, and their adopted son who is really Castle’s and Janice’s son.

A dry-as-dust policeman figures out who done it.

And Keyes makes sure everyone’s life ends more happily than Baldwin Castle’s did.

The Royal Box
By Frances Parkinson Keyes
New York: Julian Messner, 1954
303 pages
1954 bestseller #4
My grade: C

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Wild Olive Pleasant, Forgettable Reading

Basil King’s The Wild Olive is the story of the attempts by two outcasts — “wild olives” — to rejoin the society that rejected them for offenses they did not commit.

Condemned for murder, Norrie Ford flees into the Adirondacks. The illegitimate daughter of a genuine murder helps him escape to Ireland via Canada using the name Herbert Strange.

The "wild Olive" warns Ford of danger of recapture

From Ireland, Ford goes to Buenos Aires, where he finds work with the firm of Stephens and Jarrott. Seeing his hard work and intelligence, Mr. Jarrott mentors Ford. Within three years Ford is in management.

Jarrott would like to see Ford marry his ward, Evie Colfax, a New York socialite. Ford would like to marry Evie to please Jarrott, but he doesn’t want to marry anyone under a false name or false pretenses.

He’d rather go to jail.

Evie is less noble, “I can’t be engaged to people just because they’re innocent,” she says. “It isn’t right to expect it of me.”

Fortunately for Ford, Evie’s childhood friend, Miriam Strange, is none other than his Adirondacks accomplice who gave Ford his life and her family name.

King’s eye for detail obscures the predictability of the story line and characters, but cannot make the novel memorable. The Wild Olive will entertain you, but won’t enlarge your understanding of people or events.

The Wild Olive
by Basil King
Illustrated by Lucius Hitchcock
Grosset & Dunlap, 1910
1910 bestseller # 3
Project Gutenberg EBook #13212

 © 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni