A grand comeback for a grandmaster of suspense: not since the 1950s, with The Key to Nicholas Street and The Eighth Circle,...



A grand comeback for a grandmaster of suspense: not since the 1950s, with The Key to Nicholas Street and The Eighth Circle, has Stanley Ellin's unusual combination of talents--horror, humor, social observation, sentiment--arrived in so seductive or satisfying a package. Without the slightest hint of mystery or melodrama, the opening chapters draw you in--as Mike and Amy Lloyd, young N.Y. teachers long out of work (blackballed after a run-in with a slimy prep-school boss), reluctantly grab their one chance for instant solvency. . . by signing on as servants in the Upper East Side mansion of the billionaire Durie family. Mike is the new chauffeur; Amy is to be assistant-housekeeper, private-secretary to old, blind Miss Margaret Durie; they have cozy, live-in accommodations. And the first half of Ellin's shrewdly modulated novel glides along on sheer charm and character: the fascinating, nut-and-bolts details of housekeeper Mrs. McEye's fine-tuned mansion management (eight Duries in sedate residence, four cars, 16 servants); the Lloyds' assorted reactions to their old-rich employers, their servant-colleagues. (Mike, a would-be writer, starts taking notes for a Durie-inspired novel.) Gradually, however, the focus closes in on Amy's relationship with old, still-beautiful Miss Durie--a 1930s debutante and promising artist who lost her sight in an accidental staircase-fall, retreating into depression and isolation for the next 50 years. Alternately fierce and winsome, Miss Durie perplexes Amy--especially when Miss D. sets out on a series of secret expeditions with the Lloyds: odd bank dealings; trips to the Plaza Hotel, where Miss D. always disappears for a 20-minute rendezvous. And then, while Amy finds herself caught in a knot of conflicting loyalties, Miss D. sends her on a bizarre mission--to buy $6000 worth of feminist art from struggling Soho artist Kim Lowry. . . and to invite Ms. Lowry to have dinner at the mansion with her anonymous benefactress. Is all of this connected to Miss Durie's own thwarted art career? To her bygone accident? It certainly is--but Ellin makes the gothic elements here seem sharp and fresh, moving the narrative from comedy to mystery to terror with perfect timing. In all, then: an old-fashioned yet fully original entertainment--amusing and touching when centering on the Lloyds (and their various friendships), increasingly chilling as it gently unwraps the Durie family-skeletons, and something like an inspired cross between Tovarich (or Upstairs, Downstairs) and Rebecca (or Psycho).

Pub Date: Feb. 13, 1984


Page Count: -

Publisher: Arbor House

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1984