Red Chair Reads: The Rope of Fear

The Speckled Band, the Rope of Fear …  sheesh, why don’t these people just call the damned thing a snake?

In this story, a bank manager consults Scotland Yard (and unknown to him, Hamilton Cleek disguised as Mr. Headland, supposedly a colleague of Superintendent Maverick Narkom) after discovering the body of his most trusted guard, killed during the theft of a vast sum of money.  The only clue?  The guard manages these last words in the throes of death: “The rope — mind the Rope — the Rope of Fear — the Rope of Fear.”  That is an awful lot of words, when he could just as easily have said, “Snake up the trouser leg bit me.”  But then, what would be the fun of that lucid utterance?

I suppose “The Rope of Fear,” a short story by Mary E. and Thomas W. Hanshew (1857-1914), may be a homage of sort to Arthur Conan Doyle.  If so, it is so bad that it is actually entertaining — and that, of course, is why it is a Red Chair Read.  The Hanshews were responsible for the creation of Hamilton Cleek, “the man of the forty faces,” famous far and wide as the consultant detective to the mysteriously inept Scotland Yard.  He can assume any number of impenetrable disguises, indulge in death-defying derring-do, and sling slang with the best of the aristocrats.  What else do we need in our amateur detective?

Red Chair Reads: The Haunted Hotel: A Mystery of Modern Venice

I am not a Wilkie Collins fan, but since I seem to be on a Victorian mysteries kick, and I liked the subtitle, I downloaded the book for a cozy sit-in-bed-on-a-blustery-winter-day read.  I imagined all sorts of thing beforehand, but nothing close to the actual convoluted plot.  I understand now that Wilkie Collins loved the twists and turns, the coincidences, and expected the reader to be a generous co-conspirator in suspending all belief.  And so I did.

The heroine, while depressingly sweet and honorable, actually did possess a spine, and the hero did not turn out to be too remarkably stupid.  The mystery, with its supernatural elements, was perhaps a bit lackluster but doubtless sensational when published.  Wilkie Collins sounded like he was having fun with it all, which was good enough reason to keep reading.  My favorite quote came early in the book, in the description of Countess Narona:

“. . . .  she was of middle height, and (apparently) of middle age–say a year or two over thirty.”

Way over middle age,  well into my dotage.  This is how I know I am an elderly woman.