Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Lodger by Marie Belloc Lowndes

This was on the "Employee Recommended" shelf at the bookstore I frequent. The same person who vouched for this book had, along with a whole host of others, recommended The Man Who Was Thursday. I thought that it might be worth giving a chance. From Molly's brief description, it sounded like a taut mystery set in early-20th-Century London.

The book opens on a destitute couple. Mr. and Mrs. Bunting have been slowly selling off their furniture and other belongings to remain just above financial ruin. They belong to the serving class, and had run a boarding house for many years, but recently had fallen on bad times. A young police officer, Chandler, checks up on them and helps them out when he can. He is the son of one of Bunting's old friends.

As things seem to be coming to their worst, a lodger arrives, a peculiar man, who wants to rent two rooms and pays quite a lot for both. It is at the same time that horrible murders start taking place in London. Gruesome murders, in which only women are targeted, by a man known as The Avenger. It is not long before Mrs. Bunting begins to suspect their lodger of being The Avenger, but does not know what to do. After all, turning him in would mean certain financial ruin for her and her husband yet again. The casual visits from young Chandler become fraught with tension. And Mrs. Bunting becomes more and more posessive of the lodger, insisting that she be the only one that attend to his needs.

This really was not a murder mystery, as I expected it to be. From the beginning, it is pretty clear who the murderer is. The Lodger is a psychological thriller. With the evidence that The Avenger is in her house becoming clearer and clearer, Mrs. Bunting spirals into a state of near hysteria, trying to keep it together and keep her secret may just be too much for her. A well-written, interesting, quick read.

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