There is something about a golden era that makes one want to dive in, root around and relish finding dust bunnies caked to the base of the Jimmy Chu, rabbit fur masquerading as mink, grins dressed up as smiles, seething frustrations; gilded ,unfulfilled lives, forbidden love, tiaras on tormented heads. This book, Beast in View fits the bill completely.
Set in, 1950’s America (the book was written and published in the 1950’s and in America and there is nothing in the book to suggest it being set in any other time period), the book opens up with a menacing phone conversation between the main character, Miss Clarvo and an Evelyn Merrick, her nemesis. In fact, she’s everyone’s nemesis but that’s for later.
Miss Clarvo cuts a Miss Haversham figure. She is wealthy, lives a reclusive life yet there are contradictions. She is actually very young, in her twenties and despite her aversion to companionship, chooses to live in an apartment in a busy downtown hotel in Los Angeles.
With her wits close to an end, she reaches out to an old family acquaintance, the steadfast Mr Blacksheer who has worked as the Clarvo’s financial advisor. However, Miss Clarvo wants to take him on as a private eye to investigate the seemingly mysterious disappearance of a sum of money and the whereabouts of the menacing Evelyn Merrick.
All seems straightforward, doesn’t? The methodical, dependable Mr Blacksheer will have this wrapped up within ten pages but aficionados of noir and the psychological ways of the night will know better than to expect that for Blacksheer’s investigation uncovers layer upon layer of dark and unsavoury family secrets ranging from alcoholism to long term estrangement; from the tragedy of closet homosexuality which was sorrowfully rife in those times to murder, suicide and blackmail.
And that’s not to say or assume that each of these aspects of gloom occur only the once either or that order.
It’s a short book by modern standards, clocking in at only 170 pages but the story is lean and taut. If this novel were a room, it would be a dimly lit, deceptively large room, expensively wallpapered in black and silver retro Graham and Brown; minimally but tastefully furnished with sparse placings of mahogany ornamentation.
Put your glasses on and take a closer look and you will see cobwebs, dust and dead roaches on their backs, swept to the recesses and further reaches of the skirting boards for this novel invokes grandeur in irreversible decay, lives in a spiral of entropy and unravelling; the upper middle class American family with its finery and manners, turn out in the end to be a merely tea party of living skeletons who never found the energy to find their rightful graves.
This is one of the darkest and psychologically involving I’ve ever read. For years it was out of print but thankfully, it’s having a new lease of life courtesy of Orion Book.