March 23, 2011

Old School Charlotte

Something drew me to the books by Charlotte MacLeod. Possibly the name Charlotte? It could have been the hand drawn artwork on the front jacket cover. Then there was the photo of Charlotte MacLeod herself on the back cover. The photo is of a lovely, hatted older woman, pouring a cup of tea from a delicate white china tea pot into a matching tea cup...very intriguing. What sort of mystery novel would a woman of her appearance write? Surely nothing too risque or too brutal (see Dean Koontz). Can you judge a book by its cover is the question?

Yes, you can!

I decided to begin my exploration of Ms. McLeod's novel's with her book titled "The Corpse in Oozak's Pond: A Peter Shandy Mystery." I enjoy, as did my mom apparently, a series of novels with the same detective. I enjoy watching the character evolve. So, why not start here?

Well, Charlotte did not disappoint. This novel is set in a small, rural college town, Balaclava Agricultural College, in north-eastern US. It involves the discovery of the body of an unknown man in the middle of the College's pond. Who is he, how did he end up there and why was he in the pond are the outstanding questions. Peter Shandy is a professor at the College who has taken the role of resident detective in this town. The novel moves S L O W L Y, ever so S L O W L Y. It is filled with conversations that frankly, aren't necessary. Unfortunately, as a reader I had no great desire to know what had happened to the corpse. No real connection was established between the dead man and the reader. No reason to care about the who and the why.

The same held true in the second novel of MacLeod's that I read "The Gladstone Bag". This novel followed an elderly woman, much like MacLeod herself, who stumbles onto a mysterious murdered man washed up on the beach on a private island in Maine. Sound familiar?

In an attempt to date these books, whose language is quite antiquated, I scanned the copyright page at the front of the book. While looking for the publication date I came across the "this is a fictional novel" disclaimer. I have never read this disclaimer before, assuming they all say the same thing. This was not the case. Here is what I found.

"Maine has many islands off its coast, and maybe even some private gold buried somewhere, because Maine is an enchanted state where anything can happen and often does. However, the place, the people and the events in this story are all, as the old folks used to say, made up out of whole cloth. There is, as far as the author has been able to discover, no island named Pocapuk outside these pages: and if any of the characters seem to resemble actual persons the reader knows, it's either coincidence or wishful thinking."

This quotation sums up MacLeod's attitude in her books. She uses humour in a slightly snobby and overtly witty way. Curious how my mom happened upon this author. What made her collect five of her books? To this point in my reading journey, I have found that my mom's books have been high drama, graphic and fast paced thrilling mysteries. Perhaps she was charmed by the female characters, or Charlotte MacLeod herself. That is understandable. Clearly you could see yourself sharing a cup of tea and a couple of biscuits with these old world women.

PS - When I was searching my mom's bookcase for the second MacLeod book to read...something in my mind told me to look for novels by Charlotte Webb. It was only when I returned upstairs and looked at the first book that I realized I had confused the book "Charlotte's Web" with the author Charlotte MacLeod! Duh?!

** photo sourced from

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