For years I’ve been meaning to sample the neo-Gothic romantic suspense of Ursula Curtiss (1923-1984) – and after reading a particularly glowing review of this book by that pretty sinister rascal John F Norris, I knew the time had arrived! After a bout of pneumonia and a failed romance, New Yorker Caroline Emmett leaves her overbearing but well-meaning mother and goes to the small town of Wicklow, Mass. to recuperate. But one foggy evening she becomes the witness to a murder and has to go on the run …
I submit this review for Bev’s 2015 Golden Age Vintage Mystery Challenge and Patti Abbott’s Friday’s Forgotten Books meme over at her fab Pattinase blog.
“Caroline turned and ran from the deadly light”
The novel is set entirely on the night of 16-17 April as Caroline tries to stay one step ahead of the unknown person who killed an equally unknown woman in the night. Caroline didn’t actually see the face of the murderer or the victim, but the villain of the piece doesn’t know that … Having got lost in unfamiliar surroundings, Caroline finds a house in the fog, a seeming sanctuary in the home of the Oliver family. But her troubles are just beginning as the police can’t find any evidence of a body and no one has been reported missing either. Only Carmichael, the editor of the local newspaper, thinks there might be something in it and so begins an investigation on his own. Meantime Caroline starts to suspect that the culprit may be extremely close by …
“Her body begged for sleep, her mind recoiled from the vulnerability of it”
Caroline has no idea who her enemy is, though she starts to believe it may be someone inside the house – is it the apparently kindly Mrs Oliver? What about her nosy neighbour or the no-nonsense nurse who rooms upstairs? Or maybe even the mysterious woman collecting for a charity? And what of the Oliver children? The eldest, Julia, seems very unhappy to see her, demanding she leave at once, apparently for fear of putting them all in danger. Caroline has been unlucky in love and with her health of late, so is clearly in a vulnerable state. Unfortunately for her, at the moment she can’t establish her bona fides either as it’s the weekend and her family and her doctor are unavailable. So why should anyone believe her?
“The very air was tenanted; it was as strong a sensation as being stared at from a hidden angle”
Then a large rock crashes through the window and narrowly misses Caroline’s head, the nurse’s dog is killed and the Oliver’s car put out of commission – all now believe that the threat is real. But only Carmichael seems able to ferret out the motive behind a surprisingly complex plot. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, both for its subtle prose and memorable turns of phrase and smart handling of suspense as well as its nimble ability to draw vivid characters in very little time. And the plot was much more involved and complicated than I would have thought, its unfolding in the final stages handled in am extremely satisfying way. Deadly Climate is I think a superior mystery, though it ultimately has no intention of working its way out of its genre confines and so ticks all the boxes you would expect to be present. There is the isolated heroine in an isolated small town; the lone terrified witness who only the killer believes is not disturbed, who suspects absolutely everybody in turn; the climax in which the heroine is stalked around a dark and supposedly enemy-free house that proves anything but, saved at the very last second by a young suitor, leading to a hint of romance; but for all that, it still provides plenty of thrills and a pretty well-hidden villain too.
“There was something the matter with her head, a pain that was waking as she was, little by little.”
The book was adapted twice for television anthologies – once in the US for Climax! starring the great Nina Foch and Kevin McCarthy; and again a decade later in another 0ne-hour reduction this time with Georgina Hale for a version relocated to the West Country in England (you can find the details of the BBC version here), but I have seen neither I’m sorry to say – it appears in fact that neither have survived in the archives.
The great John Norris reviewed this one over at Pretty Sinister Books, so I submit my review as part of Bev’s 2015 Vintage Golden Age Mystery Challenge bingo in the ‘reviewed by another challenger’ category: