Early work by the author of Rebecca and other bestsellers, some written while du Maurier (1907-1989) was still in her teens, brings back the era when short stories were popular entertainment.
There are no impressionistic mood poems or anything else in the oblique, meticulously crafted style favored by creative-writing workshops in this collection. From the opening story of adultery and murder on a remote island (“East Wind”) to the closing narrative of a woman who sucks the life from everyone she knows, all the while asking “What is it that I do?” (“The Limpet”), du Maurier favors strong plots, overt irony and heavy foreshadowing. When the protagonist of “Nothing Hurts for Long,” waiting eagerly for her husband to return from three months in Berlin, listens to the confidences of a friend whose spouse wants a divorce and learns that the couple has been on the rocks “ever since he came back from America," readers can be quite sure the post-Berlin reunion will not be blissful. And only the narrator of “The Doll” can’t guess before his tale’s final pages the perverted nature of his beloved’s relationship with a life-sized mannequin she calls Julio. They may not be subtle, but all 13 stories are effective and gripping. “And Now to God the Father” is a scathing portrait of a smug, self-satisfied minister who worships nothing but social success. “Piccadilly” and “Mazie” paint a grim picture of a prostitute’s life. Two persuasive chronicles of love affairs going sour strike contrasting notes: one couple breaks up over the course of a grimly funny “Week-End,” while “And His Letters Grew Colder” takes six painful months to trace the downward spiral from a romance’s ardent beginning to the man’s cold-as-ice departure. Du Maurier’s prose style is serviceable, her understanding of human nature basic, but her storytelling gifts are formidable, and a good story is what was demanded by the mass-circulation magazines that published her. On that level, she never disappoints.