Monday, July 14, 2014
"Waiting For Willa" by Dorothy Eden
Setting: Modern Day
Grace, behind the bedroom door, struggling with the slippery silk pajama suit, her fingers trembling too much..the wig wouldn't fit securely. It would tumble off, like a guillotined head, like a sunflower blasted by frost.
But it would stay on long enough. And the dark butterfly-shaped glasses, and the long cigarette holder, and the tottery high heels, and the dash of Balenciaga perfume.
It was ridiculous, really. Did Willa realize how nineteen thirtyish she had been?
But this was nineteen sixty-nine, bleak, cold, devious, and now was the moment.
She flung the door open, slipped into the darkened livingroom, and cried gaily, "Voilal."
Someone screamed. She didn't know who. She thought it was one of the old ladies. It couldn't have been the sophisticated self-controlled Ebba, whose face, in the dim light, had a candle-white pallor...
She couldn't keep it up, she was trembling too violently. She felt terrible, like a skeleton ejected from it's dark safe cupboard after too many years....then there was a gentle slither of someone subsiding slowly to the floor.
When everyone had stepped back and more candles had been lit, it was discovered that the person who had been overcome was Kate Sinclair.
Grace and Willa are first cousins, the girls are particularly close since the close deaths of both of their mothers (who were twin sisters). They are as different as night and day (Willa being an enigmatic, spontaneous soul of expensive tastes and a frivolous taste in love interests, the complete opposite of Grace who is a quiet mannered author or romance novels). Yet, only the two of them know Willa's secret SOS is to sign her letters as Wilhelmina.
So, when Grace receives a letter from Willa, signed by her SOS, she tries communicating with her cousin by mail but with no success. She then sends a telegram announcing that she's catching a flight to visit Willa, as she firmly believes Willa has gotten herself in some kind of trouble with her lavish lifestyle.
Grace fully expects Willa to be cheerfully awaiting her as her flight to the Swedish country takes landing, yet her arrival is a somber one. Grace is left to her own devices to track down Willa's flat (with furnishings that indicate Willa was living far beyond her means, a rich keeper, perhaps?) and a mysterious set of Willa's friends and acquaintances, all who seem to know little to nothing about the mysterious circumstances of Willa's departure.
According to close friends, and Willa's previous boss Peter Sinclair, Willa has ran off to marry a man named Gustav. Other acquaintances, including a doctor friend, says that Willa had gotten herself pregnant and was in quite a predicament.
But when Grace finds Willa's secret diary and begins to decode and unravel the mysterious passages her cousin wrote, she comes to the conclusion that Willa had gotten herself involved with a married man. References of 'queens in the attic' indicate that one wife must go and one must stay. But to whom's attic does Willa reside, and what of the 'rain on the cottage roof' that's 'driving her mad?'
Thankfully Grace has found a friend in Willa's upstairs neighbor, Polsen, and together they work diligently at solving the mysterious disappearance of Willa. And when Grace finds Willa's favorite sunglasses in the mud at Peter Sinclair's lakeside cabin, then the fur scarf (whom her landlord said she was wearing on the last day she left her flat) at her friend Ebba's house, the mystery only deepens.
This book reminded me a bit of one I just read, 'The Etruscan Smile,' as both books portray heroines who are uncovering the suspicious disappearances of close family members. The book isn't bone-chilling or anything but does have a great plot, and several subplots, that keeps things running smoothly. This is labeled as a Gothic and reads much like one, but I do believe a little more suspense (specifically the heroine finding herself in danger) and some additional spooky elements (particularly in Willa's flat where she resided alone much of the time) would have made this a more exceptional read. I'd recommend this book to fans of gothic romance, though honestly it's not going to rank too highly on my list of favorites simply because I don't feel it had enough shock factor, nor enough suspense or those creepy gothic elements that make books from this genre so hard to put down!