The Keys of My Prison / Frances Shelley Wees
Montreal: Vehicule Press, 2016, c1956.
I thought I was done catching up with the mystery books I've been reading, after last month's string of reviews, but then I found just one more. This book, from the Ricochet series by Vehicule Press, was given to me by a friend and fellow Margaret Millar aficionado, Brian Busby -- who also happens to be the editor for this line.
He recommended it as a readalike for the Margaret Millar fan. It does measure up, but only to a point; Wees doesn't quite reach the heights of cleverness and style that Millar does. But she's definitely writing in the same tradition, with an emphasis on relationships and psychology at the heart of this mystery. And it is a good one.
It begins with a crisis: Rafe Jonason is in a car crash -- he's in a coma at the hospital, with his devoted wife Julie keeping watch over him. But when he finally awakes, his first question to her is "Who the hell are you?"
Rafe has turned into another person, more of a Hyde than a Jekyll -- he's coarse, short-tempered, drinking a lot where he'd originally been abstemious, and confused about his comfortable Rosedale life that he's been living for the past 15 or so years. Julie's father had trusted Rafe, a distant relative, and invited him into their lives years before -- Julie had fallen for him, married him, and they now have a toddler son. Rafe is about to take over the family business, when the accident interferes.
But when Rafe finally regains his memory, he still seems to be not quite the man he once was. Julie's suspicions can't be totally contained, and with the help of a police psychologist, the threads of this situation are slowly untangled....or perhaps, are uncovered as even more tangled than was first apparent.
It's a layered story, with many possibilities to explain the dilemma. I kept changing my mind about what I thought was happening; as new information was revealed I had to adapt my solution. But the story was well-paced, with not too much information being given out at once or withheld unnecessarily. The main characters were well-drawn, and I liked some of the more minor characters a lot, like Julie's very Scottish Aunt Edie. This is definitely one to look out for if you do like women's writing from midcentury. Thanks to Brian for introducing me to her work!