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A one volume reissue of two novels by British writer Butts (d. 1937), one of which, Armed with Madness, appeared in the US in 1928, with the other, Death of Felicity Taverner, making its US debut. Though in broad outline an investigation of a possible murder, the Death of Felicity Taverner is even more an expression of a particular mood and time--the uncertain years after WW I. Sensitive, artistic, and elitist--better to have ""one dress from Chanel than 'six from a shop'""--brother Felix Taverner, sister Scylla, her husband Picus, as well as Russian ÉmigrÉ Boris, are spending the summer in their beloved seaside house. Here, they live the simple life and, sensitive to nature, are convinced like Scylla ""that the land was an exfoliation, not happening in our kind of time, a becoming of the perfected."" Here they also ponder cousin Felicity's death in France. Felicity may have been pressured to commit suicide by her mother and brother's demand for conventional behavior, or murdered by her estranged husband, Kralin, a sinister Russian. And when Kralin, a man who represents all that Felicity was not, arrives and announces his intentions to turn Felicity's old home into a vacation development, the family is convinced he's culpable. There is a denouement of sorts, but Butts prefers the elliptical to the exact, and Felicity's death is more a metaphor for the times than a real crime requiring a real solution. There's some beautiful writing here, but not enough to give weight and shape to a diffuse and often irritatingly fey work, riven with period prejudices, including anti-Semitism. A minor period piece.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1992
Page count: 375pp
Publisher: McPherson