Wendy Whitman, planning her marriage to another man, penurious playboy Ronnie Mungo, says she saw her ex Harold running away from the house the night her stepmother Myra was attacked. Wendy, it soon becomes clear, is a pathological liar. Visiting poor relation Edith Thompson, Wendy's cousin, realizes Harold is being set up to take the fall for another's crime and offers him sanctuary is the Whitman mansion's turret room. What to do next is a difficult question....
|Will Harold take the rap|
for another person's crime?
Nor would I categorized this novel as "suburban noir," a label that has been applied to Armstrong's work (everything is taken more seriously if it's labeled noir). Otto Penzler has written of noir that it
is about losers. The characters in these existential, nihilistic tales are doomed. They may not die, but they probably should, as the life that awaits them is certain to be so ugly, so lost and lonely, that they'd be better off just curling up and getting it over with. And, let's face it, they deserve it....
Pretty much everyone in a noir story (or film) is driven by greed, lust, jealously or alienation....It is their own lack of morality that blindly drives them to ruin.
See Noir Fiction Is About Losers (The Huffington Post, August 10, 2010).
This dark place is not the world of Charlotte Armstrong, from what I have read of her work. Ultimately Armstrong's world is a just one, where decency, generosity and kindness win out over dysfunction, selfishness and malevolence. Armstrong's good people overcome those nasty noir types. When it comes to the question of the improvement of the human condition, I find Armstrong a reassuring writer. There is evil in the world, to be sure, but it can be stymied by determined and decent souls.
|avocado green and burnt orange--|
yup, it's the 1960s all right!
The point was, how could Edie protect a country boy [Harold Page]...from these terrible people? In particular, from Wendy Whitman, who had lied, would lie, being possessed, as far as Edie could tell, of no scruples at all [now Wendy is noir!]. Which of the household could she approach, to ask for mercy and understanding, or even a mind open to the reestablishment of justice?
The Whitman menagerie is a splendid rogue's gallery of selfish rich people and their hangers-on, the most memorable of which is the family matriarch, Lila Whitman. A stunning portrait of the arrogance of wealth, Mrs. Whitman is a character you won't soon forget. She starts off amusingly eccentric and becomes simply horrifying. It's a masterful writing job by Armstrong.