The Blank Wall

After exhausting my Dorothy Whipple supply, I discovered Elsabeth Sanxay Holding from the list of books Persephone has revived. In the introduction by her literary executor, he mentions that the Depression caused Holding to write shorter, suspenseful mysteries instead of the long, serious, critically acclaimed novels she’d previously done (Invincible Minnie – 1920, The Silk Purse are both mentioned). The New York Times reviewed The Silk Purse, saying:

“She has managed to make every one of her characters, however unimportant, important. They are as real a collection of people as ever said yes when they wished to heaven they could say no. Like real people, they talk when they should be silent, are silent when they should say something, and, with the best intentions in the world, quietly wreck each other’s lives.”

In this novel, Lucia Holley dutifully writes to her husband, fighting in the Pacific; she writes boring letter filled with the boring things that go on in the suburb where the family has moved to wait out the war—daughter Bee, son David, and Lucia’s father. Bee gets mixed up with an older man named Ted Darby that her mother forbids her to see. Darby shows up at the house and Lucia’s father shoves him in the boathouse, saying he pushed him into the water. When Lucia goes out the next day to row her boat, she finds Darby’s dead body and realizes that her father accidentally killed him. She motors the body out to a swampy island and discards it, along with a bandana and her shopping list. Then a man named Donnelly arrives to blackmail the family with letters Bee wrote to Darby. Thus begins Lucia’s whirlwind of deceit, pawning jewels and blithely lying to her family to protect them. Donnelly falls in love with her, and ends up killing a man who won’t stop blackmailing her, his original partner in the business. Lucia witnesses this and helps Donnelly dispose of the body. He later takes the rap for both murders because he wants to protect Lucia. The black maid, Sibyl, plays a huge role in keeping Lucia’s secrets and helping to protect the family.