Well, it’s back. I’ve embarked on the #ClassicsChallenge2018 with a few friends and my brother along for the ride. All are welcome! The January assignment was Mystery/Suspense. In February, with Oscar Nominations top of mind, we’ll read a Book turned into a Movie. But for now, let’s talk Mystery.
During my Tween to Teen transition, I adored a good mystery. After all, I’d begun my exposure with The Bobbsey Twins and moved on to Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys. But, after a while, I craved a little something more … grown up.
Enter the works of Phyllis A. Whitney and Victoria Holt. These were atmospheric tales of adventure and suspense, blended with Gothic tones, angst-ridden heroines and handsome, dashing men with names like Evan, Giles, Joss and Brandon. And they fascinated my younger, romantic self. Each book was set in some exotic or enticing location, too, adding to their attraction for a teenager living in Northern Indiana.
So, when it came time to select a Classic Mystery, what better than to pull out Phyllis A. Whitney’s Lost Island.” Yes, I did read it before. But it was … er … um … well at least 35 or so years ago. The publish date of 1970 makes it just shy of our group’s Classic status of 50 years old. But, a friend had given me a First Edition copy for Christmas, so I threw caution to the wind, grabbed a cup of tea and a cozy blanket, and settled on the couch with my #ClassicsChallenge2018 mystery.
Lost Island is set on a remote, apparently privately owned island off the coast of Georgia. And Whitney’s excellent use of imagery and description invites you to smell the sea air and feel the sand on your toes. Like Daphne du Maurier — who probably inspired Whitney, Holt and others of the time — the descriptions are often a bit over the top, There are some dated character descriptions and references — not just ones found in gabardine pants or windbreakers. And, Lacey — our heroine for this novel — is a bit of a drama queen and always gazing off into the horizon. (Probably why I related to her and loved her so much in my Teen days!)
Quick plot summary (Caution for Spoilers). Lacey spent summers raised on her family-owned Hampton Island. Her mom had run away from said island years before but her silhouette seems to throw a shadow over the island — even though she married, moved to New York and has since passed away. Yet Lacey was always drawn back to Hampton Island … very clearly it was the handsome Giles Severn that was the attraction. But her cousin Elise was ever the rival.
But Elise is a head-strong girl and leaves the island to sow her wild oats before her eventual, expected settling down as mistress of the island named for her family, leaving Lacey and Giles to …. (you know this …) fall in love. Lacey of course gets pregnant. Elise returns to discover her destined husband — Giles — didn’t wait or pine for her. In fact, he’s no longer in love with her at all. She manipulates everyone, driving a wedge between Lacey and Giles, until Lacey runs away. Once Lacey is out of the way — as always expected — Giles and Elise get engaged. But … remember … Lacey is pregnant!
Elise and her mother, Lacey’s Aunt Amalie (see, everyone in these books has a unique name!) convince Lacey to give up the child and form a plan to make it seem that Elise, who has recently married Giles but is unable to bear children, is the baby’s mother. And, that’s where the story technically begins … 10 years later, Lacey is invited to visit the island by Elise, spends time with Giles — and her son Richard — and realizes what a devastating mistake she made all those years before.
Enter the mystery and suspense. There are attempts to scare her away, by someone. There are even attempts on her life. And as the dire nature of the “relationship” between Giles and Elise become apparent, Lacey’s feelings rev up and rekindle the romance and the love she denied for all these years. Eventually, as in all Whitney/Holt mysteries, someone dies. The story has many twists and turns before reaching the denouement. And the ending is a surprise.
I enjoy the atmospheric, melodramatic feel of these books. And I enjoyed Lost Island. The book — and others I read by the same author — sparked and continue to spark my creative energy and imagination. As a teen, I always imagined myself in the heroine’s place. I wanted to change my name to Lacey or Lyndall or Courtney or Skye. Something more unique and romantic than “Jennifer.”
But the books always seemed to end rather abruptly and I found myself curious as to the rest of the story. What happened to Lacey and Giles after the final page turn? To Courtney and Evan in The Golden Unicorn? (my FAVORITE Whitney novel) Heck, when I read du Maurier’s Rebecca, I wanted to know what happened to Maxim and the unnamed only known as Mrs. de Winter after the burning of Manderley.
I do that now, too … When endings come or people move on, out of my life or away, I wonder … what is the rest of their story? What happened after they walked out of my “movie?” What happened after goodbye or the burning of Manderley? What’s in the next chapter after they turn, walk off into the sunset or drive away? It’s not as though their lives stop after they leave my scene. What secrets don’t I know? What subtext did I miss? What happens next? What IS the rest of the story?
I’m curious that way. And I guess that’s why these Phyllis A. Whitney mysteries appealed to me as a teen and continue to appeal to me now. Exotic, romantic places and people fascinate me. Incomplete tales are so real. And though the pages of a book tell me what’s going on, when I close the book, I know there’s always more to the story.
Life is full of mystery and suspense … surprises and fascinating people. I don’t need Whitney or Holt or even Dan Brown to show me that. I just keep turning pages … not knowing what’s coming next …