the last two years, I have enthused in print over
Soho Press’s re-releases of Patricia Carlon’s
brilliant psychological thrillers and mysteries.
(Click here to read my
review The Unquiet Night and The Price
of an Orphan.) While Carlon has retired from
writing (a native Australian, she now lives in Sydney),
Soho is doing yeoman’s work bringing her books
to an American audience for the first time. To date,
they’ve produced nine titles, including the
latest, Who Are You, Linda Condrick? So
far, there hasn’t been a single stinker in
the bunch—but that should surprise no one
who’s read Carlon.
Who Are You,
Linda Condrick? may not be Carlon’s absolute-best
Soho release, but it’s near the top. Originally
published abroad in 1962, it’s a country-manor
whodunit with a twist: instead of being set in the
lush English countryside, it takes place on an Australian
Outback sheep station that’s being threatened
by an encroaching bush fire—to say nothing
of the dangers posed by a family squabble that threatens
to grow to the point of murder.
For all her accessibility
to contemporary readers, Carlon’s books always
seem to retain elements that look back into the
genre’s past, and the plot here is no exception:
at the family squabble’s center is a dispute
over the recently diseased matriarch’s will.
To everyone’s surprise (excluding readers
who favor three-volume Victorian novels), she has
left her entire estate to her grandson. Unfortunately
for the others, the grandson has proposed to the
matriarch’s nurse, and the nurse (whose past
is as mysterious as her personality is brittle)
seems dead-set on chasing them all out of the sheep
station. But even when a drifter is found dead in
the bush fire (poisoned by cyanide in his tea, no
less) and all the clues point to the nurse being
the murderer, she’s too tough to confess…or
flee, even when two sharp-eyed detectives arrive
This is a Carlon
book, though, and it never pays to expect her characters
and plots to follow predictable paths. Maybe, after
all, the nurse is being framed…indeed, at
a second glance, the nurse’s accusers don’t
look so innocent themselves.
Every time I pick
up a new Carlon title, I tell myself to slow down
and savor the experience—but I can’t.
Her prose is so expertly lean and fast (and highly
cinematic: wake up, Hollywood!) that I consume the
book in a single night, and then I spend a year
waiting for the next one. Happily, Carlon was a
prolific writer (she wrote more than fifty novels),
and we should expect more summer-catalog titles
from her for years to come.
Who Are You,
Linda Condrick? is highly, highly recommended
for readers who favor the sort of devilishly smart
psychological puzzles most often associated with
masters like Patricia Highsmith and Alfred Hitchcock.
Carlon is in rarified company, indeed.