When I was a teen, I stumbled upon my first Jane Aiken Hodge book in the paperback section of my local thrift store. By the time her book Watch the Wall, My Darling came into my hands, the newsprint was yellowing with age. I started reading the book and discovered that turning the pages too quickly caused the binding to disintegrate.
Still, I had a very hard time remembering to be careful.
To my great disappointment, I seem to have lost the book in my last move, so I will tell you what I remember.
For one, the opening: “Damnation!” The voice was a gentleman’s.” I believe this was the first line, but if not, those words are on the first page.
I can truthfully say I have never read a more exciting “inciting incident.” The heroine, Christina, is on her way to her grandfather’s estate when her carriage is attacked by a band of smugglers. The ring leader is holding Christina captive and she bites his hand–the result is the aforementioned exclamation. I remember thinking, ooh, this is going to be good!
The following morning, the hero walks into breakfast. Christina looks at his bandaged hand and says something along the lines of “nasty bite” to which he replies that there is a litter in the stables and the bitch didn’t like how he was handling her. She, of course, counters with something equally warning and witty.
Forgive the fuzzy memory, it’s been more than 15 years, but who wouldn’t want to read on and see the sparks between these two fly?
The rest of the book lives up to the opening. There is a half-dead frenchman hidden on the estate (is he friend or foe?), a crumbling abbey, a few unexplained (read deliberate) accidents, a kidnapping, a bullet wound, a love triangle and an irascible old patriarch trying to manipulate his family while they fight for their lives. Now THAT makes for a lovely Saturday afternoon!
The Suspense Historical has been making a bit of come-back and I’m all for it. While I love a good romp, the characters that have lingered with me for years have always been the ones that had to find their grit to survive. Mrs. DeWinter (the second), Martha Leigh (later Mrs. TreMellyn), Maggie Chandler & Christina Trentton. Of course, all these heroines had complex and dark heros whose strength was burdened with secrets, hidden pain and a desperate need for the light the heroine could bring into their lives.
So, raising a glass to Ms. Hodge, who opened up a world of satisfying entertainment to me.
*note: the title Watch the Wall, My Darling is a reference to a chilling Kipling poem called A Smuggler’s Song.