Saturday, August 20, 2011

Speak for the Dead

Miss Lemon seems never to tire of Margaret Yorke. There's something about the crispness of her sentences and the simple delicacy with which she tells complicated and compelling stories that draws Miss Lemon back again and again.

What's more, her range of psychological portrayals is nothing short of virtuosic. She can convey the motives of a middle-aged, middle-class serial rapist with as much realism as she can the mental workings of a common street thug. The characters she creates for Speak for the Dead (1988) are no exception to her great ability.

She presents us with Gordon Matthews, an intelligent but directionless product of a privileged home. His mother is obsessed with the rigidity and grandeur of the Russian tsars, while his father whiles away his retirement drinking beer at the pub and making futile passes at the woman who runs the till at the local hardware store. Gordon, it's revealed early on, has spent time in prison for manslaughter; but what actually precipitated these charges -- and the validity of the charges themselves -- is a matter of perspective.

Upon Gordon's release, he meets Carrie Foster, a vibrant and clever girl, much more able to fend for herself than Gordon's previous wife. But not all is straightforward beneath Carrie's pleasant and capable facade. Carrie, in her turn, meets Nicholas Fitzmaurice, a sweet and innocent seeming boy -- 'such a pet,' as she likes to refer to him -- until the truths that surface become more than he can handle.

The characters' collective foibles prove to be a volatile mix and make for a mesmerizing story.

If you've not yet tried reading Margaret Yorke, you really must. Many of her titles are now out of print but are easy enough to find second-hand. They would also make an excellent candidate for Felony & Mayhem re-issues.

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