In Archdeacon’s debut novel, a 58-year-old millionaire and member of the Queen’s Counsel sells his house and belongings in an attempt to begin a new life alone while his wife is away.
John Penry-Hudson is a hard-working, respectable lawyer en route to fulfilling his dream of serving as one of Her Majesty’s judges. His wife, Phyllis, has been spending increasingly lengthy amounts of time with her aging mother a few hours away. When Phyllis takes a three-month leave, John suddenly decides to simply up and leave his wife, his lucrative career and his native country—seemingly without forethought or motivation. The day Phyllis departs, John embarks upon a hasty, complicated plan to sell the house (which was solely in his name), write a series of letters to cover his tracks and convince everyone that his wife has left him. Just as everything begins falling into place and John successfully escapes to Spain briefly in an attempt to foil potential pursuers, Phyllis suddenly appears at his hotel with a detective, resulting in an international chase that takes John to France, Switzerland and an imaginary country called Grundia, where he intends to settle. Because John has technically done nothing illegal, he’s off the hook—that is until his wife, either spurred by love or vengeance, takes matters into her own hands. Written in clean, safe prose that occasionally drags—particularly in the overwrought dialogue and while John gets his affairs in order—Archdeacon’s novel is a fun, domestic thriller reminiscent of some of Graham Greene’s work. But something is missing; from the beginning, John’s motivations are frustratingly unclear. “He had originally intended to teach Phyllis a lesson she would never forget,” the narrator explains nearly a third of the way into the book, and until this point, aside from explaining that John and Phyllis’s relationship was fairly stable, that is as much information as the narration provides, leaving much of the storyline feeling frivolous without any context for their relationship. Still, the confusion behind John’s apparent lack of impetus offers enough tension to keep the pages turning.
A light, entertaining novel about greed, marital love and the inexplicable desire for solitude.