Monday, January 25, 2016

The Mirror Dance (1970)

I read Elisabeth Kylie's Mirror Dance about a month ago and while I have a vague memory of the plot, I have forgotten most of the details. Goodreads gives the book two stars, probably because the writing is simplistic and the conclusion weak, but I will elevate that rating to three stars because the author creates an independent woman in 1970 and does a good job describing the urban lifestyle I love so much.

The very first sentence of the novel tells us a lot about the city atmosphere that is to follow:

"Paxton was a favoured suburb of London in which to live. It had an excellent train service up to town." 

Judith Marlowe lives in a flat, one she shares first with room mates and then keeps on her own when her salary allows for it. She is financially and emotionally stable. She works, takes holidays, and commutes. 

Things get complicated when Judith inherits her grand-aunt's house and discovers, hidden away, a suitcase that was supposed to have been with her cousin Giselle when she died in a British train accident.

How is it that Giselle's body was damaged yet her suitcase remains in perfect condition? How is it that Giselle's passport includes a Danish entry mark dated several days prior the crash and yet there is no exit visa bringing her back to London? 

Judith, naturally, travels to Copenhagen to solve the mystery of her cousin's death. While there, she lives in a hotel, one with a narrow entrance and an old-fashioned lift. When she looks outside, she can see inside a "handsome" flat across the street and, two stories down, a crown-approved jewelers shop. 

The author describes city life throughout the story in a genuine way. When Judith awakens, an early morning bus rumbles by carrying workers to their 6am shift. The streets begin to fill as the sun rises, first with shop girls and clerks and later with professionals and tourists. Stores open. Judith walks through different neighborhoods, elegant ones and then busier ones selling foodstuffs. She stops for a coffee. Late at night, back in her room, Judith's radiator is noisy but the streets are quiet. The room is stuffy. She opens her window. Another bus passes by and after a short interval, a party of strollers. The flat she was able to look into earlier is dark and the shop below, illuminated softly, is shut tight with iron grilles.

Judith investigates but she doesn't rent or borrow a car. She takes a bus to question her prime suspect. She flags a cab when she's in a hurry or on her way to the airport. Mostly Judith walks, referencing maps and choosing well-lit streets filled with activity for safety. When Judith socializes with others, she does so in parks or over meals in restaurants. She fills her time wandering through museum exhibits and chats with strangers at the ballet. And, throughout it all, she gathers information. At no time does Judith justify her employment or apologize for her lack of a husband.

At the story's conclusion (spoiler alert), we are told that Gisele overdosed while staying with her friend Inge in Denmark. Even though the pills were somehow legal, Inge worked in a chemist's shop that was missing drugs and to avoid scandal and possible incrimination, she dumps Giselle's body in the river and pretends her friend dies in an accident. The true drug thieves, although never named or described, are said to have been arrested. Judith returns to London, without reporting her findings to authorities, and is merely grateful she no longer feels responsible for her cousin having been on the train that crashed. 

I don't know if we are supposed to accept this explanation as fact or see through it? It makes more sense that Inge killed Giselle for her money and dumped her body in the river. Aunt Vera may have wanted to avoid publicity and been blackmailed. A final edit would have helped if the author wanted us to read one thing yet know another, or if she had wanted to leave the ending ambiguous. Either way, Inge lives in fear that the body will resurface and Judith has a new love interest, a short man, small boned and slightly foreign looking, another indication in 1970 that standards are changing. We can conclude the book with satisfaction. 

SIDEBAR: Yet to add a little more confusion, the covers used when this novel was in print do not represent the story at all. The one I show above is ridiculous. This is not a gothic novel although it may have been marketed as such in 1970. The terrified female running from a big house on the moors or cliffs does not apply. Judith lives in a flat and then a hotel. She visits her aunt who lives on a city block and then interviews suspects in bars and parks. She travels to sea-side cottages and modern apartment blocks. At no time does she flee in terror wearing only a nightgown. 

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