“Quirky” does not begin to describe this American debut of a 1969 novel that predates the Charmian Daniels series (The Morbid Kitchen, 1996, etc.). The comforts of Stella’s placid middle-class existence—her job producing puppet theater for children’s television, her pleasant apartment, her lunches with school chums Catherine, Anne, and Xandra—are disturbed no end when a stranger turns up claiming to be her husband, who died ten years ago. She’s not sure whether he is—she can’t seem to remember her husband’s face, and anyway, the claimant says he’s been sick. But he and his valise make her uneasy, so she stabs him with a kitchen knife. Failing to injure him, she allows him to stay indefinitely, and the two embark on a series of dialogues in which every question is answered by another. Stella finally concludes that her visitor must be a secret agent on a mission of some sort—a theory supported by the appearance at her front door of another stranger, who promptly drops dead of a knife wound. She and George, an orphan boy, drag the corpse off and bury it in an old Roman tomb, where she is confronted by a third stranger, whom she cold-cocks with a shovel. Eventually, she takes umbrage at the original stranger and bricks him into the kitchen cupboard. Stella’s first-person account of these doings is interrupted periodically by a third-person narrative about some men wondering whether they can control Stella adequately. Apparently not.
Fans of paranoid conspiracy theories may like this one. Others should steer clear.