Monday, December 5, 2016

IN BRIEF: A Silver Spade - Louisa Revell

Julia Tyler is reluctant to accept the job as teacher of Latin at Camp Pirate Island in Maine. She’s been approached by the camp’s founder and owner, Mrs. Turner, to fill in for the previous Latin teacher who’s unexpectedly up and quit. Was it the exceptionally intelligent girl, one with an IQ of 140, that scared away the teacher? No, it was the rash of strange anonymous letters with hints of violence that sent her packing. Anonymous letters? Julia asks for more details and once she has been filled in she can’t pack quickly enough and find the first plane from Virginia to Maine. Retirement can wait. Her inner detective smells a mystery that needs to be solved. A Silver Spade (1950) is Julia's third adventure and perhaps the most satisfying of the entire series.

The title takes as its inspiration a song lyric. In the setting of the summer camp Revell indulges us with frequent scenes in which the girls let loose in a rousing chorus of a campfire song. One of these songs is adapted from a blues tune with a variety of lyric alterations. Julia Tyler hears the words “You can dig my grave with a silver spade/Cause I ain’t gonna be here no longer” and is chilled to the bone. The melody is quite pretty but the macabre lyrics and sentiment leave a lot to be desired and will foreshadow the deadly events to come. Digging has indeed been going on in secret at night

Accusations of Nazi sympathies, covert nighttime activities that suggest espionage, a member of the staff who was a member of the French resistance -- all play a part in the exciting plot. No one is spared scrutiny, no one is ever considered off limits. At one point a group of girls are considered as having committed murder. This is the kind of mystery novel I truly enjoy and the kind that is all too rare.

As I chronologically work my way through the Julia Tyler detective novels by Louisa Revell I find that each book improves upon the previous one. By the time I got to this third title I found the one that I will heartily recommend if you are interested in reading this writer. Everything about it surpasses the previous two. From the highly unusual setting of an academic summer camp for girls to the exciting finale reminiscent of a Christianna Brand novel. As in most of Brand's mysteries, and sometimes Ellery Queen, several suspects are accused of being the culprit until someone who played an exceedingly minor role in the book reveals all in a solution that makes such perfect sense it should have been obvious from the start to any astute reader.

7 comments:

  1. I love the sound of this - thanks John, I'm in!

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  2. I have a lot of trouble buying the premise that a summer camp for girls has, or needs, a Latin teacher. That just doesn't make sense to me.

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    1. How about an astronomy teacher? Or a history teacher? It's an academic summer camp. The girls are taught all sorts of school subjects. I'd never heard of such a thing until I read this book.

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  3. This sounds great John, right up my street - never heard of author or series, but definitely going to seek Revell out.

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    1. I reviewed two other books on this blog. Click on the "Louisa Revell" or "Julia Tyler" category links to bring them all up. As a mystery the first one (BUS STATION MURDERS) isn't all that great, but the social setting (US Navy wives and their husbands) is fascinating. I started SEE ROME AND DIE, the penultimate book in the series, but lost interest in it and gave up. Too much of the Italian aristocrats and fashion design. OH! you might like that one then. ;^) A SILVER SPADE is most definitely the best of the lot so far. Leaps and bounds above the other two.

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    2. Silver spade has arrived, and now you are tempting me with Italian fashion design - tchah!

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  4. Ooooh, now THIS sounds like something I'd like, John. I've never heard of this writer (that's not entirely surprising) but I'm going to check around for a copy. And to think that at one time I thought I knew a lot about vintage mysteries. HA!

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