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Like the recently published You're Best Alone (together with Requiem for Idols, in a 1981 double-volume), this psychological-suspense tale by the late, great Lofts originally appeared under her ""Peter Curtis"" pseudonym, and only in Great Britain (1945). And, like Requiem for Idols, Lofts focuses here on a newly wealthy, youngish writer--though Miss Penelope Shadow, shy and fearful, is an intriguing contrast to the liberated, jaunty heroine of Requiem. A bestselling success at 35 with Mexican Flower and other historical romances, demurely pretty Penelope can now afford a home of her own--and must, in fact, because her dear, maternal half-sister has moved to Africa. Luckily, then, Penelope finds a charming dower house for sale in a nearby village, moves in, thrives--yet can't overcome her phobia of being alone in any house, especially at night. So, when yet another in a motley series of housekeepers deserts her, Penelope desperately seeks refuge at an amusingly dreadful hotel--where only one employee knows what he's doing: an assured, handsome 20-year-old named Terry. . . whom Penelope impetuously hires as her new houseboy: ""she had, all in one person, a nurse, a mentor, a chauffeur, a chambermaid, butler and steward."" But is that all Terry will be to the proper spinster? Not for long: when disapproving friends start gossiping about Terry's influence over Penelope, there's a moment of crisis--until Terry declares his love for his boss! Penelope, genuinely shocked but thrilled, makes a genteel marriage proposal on the spot; unlike Penelope, the reader now learns what's been hinted all along--that Terry is a calculating fortune-hunter. And the novel's second half turns to the inevitable consequences: Terry's infidelities, Penelope's growing awareness of his phoniness, then her growing fear of his homicidal intentions. . . and her gutsy decision to fight back. True, the basic plot here is a romance/suspense standby, classically embodied in Francis Iles' 1932 Before the Fact (which became, with major alteration, Hitchcock's Suspicion). But, as usual, Lofts' version is strong on crisp detailing and feminine fiber--as a scared-mouse of a heroine settles down, wises up, and (in the process) conquers her phobia; also, Lofts fans will particularly appreciate the hints of self-portraiture in the glimpses of writer Penelope at work. (""While her fight hand tapped out its web of entrancement her left added little rough nuggets of realism, and each hand knew what the other was about."")

Pub Date: April 5th, 1985
Publisher: Doubleday