I've already forgotten what it was I was looking for when I came across Jennie Melville's Hunter in the Shadows, and the spine is pretty unremarkable on this book, so why I felt like pulling it from the shelf has already escaped me, but maybe it was the title. When I looked it up on Amazon, I thought automatically I'd scored a good find. The blurb on the 1971 reprint from Publishers Weekly reads "In the gripping tradition of Helen MacInnes...romantic suspense...one of the best thrillers yet!" Maybe I have a knack for homing in on good, suspenseful stories? Luck or something else, I sort of like the sound of this one, even though I've not been able to find a detailed description.
I have found out a bit about Jennie Melville, however. Jennie Melville is a pseudonym for Gwendoline Williams Butler, who was born in 1922 in London, England. She read History at Oxford and married a professor of Medieval history. She is credited with inventing the "women's police procedural" and wrote a series of mysteries featuring Chief Superintendent Charmian Daniels, but she began her career with a detective from the Victorian/Edwardian era, Detective Inspector John Coffin. Booklist called her "one of the most underrated mystery writers". To top it off she also wrote gothic romantic thrillers, and it seems as though it is under this last category that Hunter in the Shadows must fall.
"The 'Melville' gothic romances are usually told in the first person, with the narrator being a young girl caught up in a mysterious , dangerous situation. Most often 'someone wishes [the heroine] ill, generally for economic reasons; someone else has nothing but her good at heart, and often she is hopelessly confused between the two. The lover/killer figure is a favorite motif of Melville's: naturally, since it provides a focus for the tensions of the plot and takes to its most obvious extreme the concept of fear as an erotic force." (Contemporary Authors: New Revision Series, volume 108).
It sounds as though she is at her best with her police procedurals, so it is a pity that my library only has this one title by her when she has written quite a few books. She has won a Silver Dagger from the Crime Writers Association, and a Romantic Novelists Association prize. Her mysteries have been lauded by critics as as being "superbly constructed stories with byzantine plots, tantalizing suspense, and dark psychological overtones."
Butler became interested in crime fiction when she was only eight and read Mystery of the Yellow Room by Gaston Leroux in one afternoon sitting in the firelight. She is also a fan of Charles Dickens. Unfortunately her books seem to be out of print, however noteworthy they were in their heyday. Maybe it's time for a little attention to be paid her again? A little teaser of her romantic suspense story:
"The interrogator, sitting in a quiet dark room, high above the river, said, 'By all means let us hear everything she has to say. It may be interesting.'
The man he was speaking to said, 'It can hardly fail to be that.'
'By interesting, I mean informative, useful to us.'
'Perhaps. She was very careful.'
'And how did you get this script?'
The other smiled. 'She wrote it down. Oh, she wants to tell the story. A natural impulse. But there is someone in contact with her.'
'We have continued to watch her?'
'Naturally.' He nodded in affirmation.
The other said, 'I always find it so interesting to listen to people living through episodes like this.'
As I'm greatly enjoying Helen MacInnes at the moment, if Jennie Melville is at all similar, she may be very entertaining indeed. It sounds as though this is a story of a husband believed to be dead who returns home with sinister results.
Has anyone read any of her books?