Book Review for “Water Weed” by Alice Campbell.
Summary: “Young Virginia Carew is making a trip to England when she encounters old friend Glenn Hillier-strangely altered from the last time they met. Glenn is besotted with a glamorous middle-aged lady, with whom he’s been staying in the blissful English countryside. It isn’t long before Virginia too is a guest of the family, but there are snakes in this garden of Eden-snakes at first entangled in jealousy; then blackmail; finally murder. In the events which follow, Glenn disappears, suspected by some of suicide. Virginia finds her world up-ended as events take an ever darker turn. It’ll be up the intrepid young American to stay one step ahead of the police, and finish the case before the deadly water weed pulls her down . . .”
Age: Adult; Genres: Mystery, Crime, Women, Fiction; Settings: Contemporary; England – countryside near London; Other Categories: Novel, Vintage.
Dean Street Press was being pretty quiet for a while there, and then back they were in my inbox with another early to mid-20th century female author, and this one is one I hadn’t heard of before. Seeing as Campbell wrote mystery/crime/thriller novels, the reason why I didn’t know of her is very possibly due to the fact that she was overshadowed by blockbuster fellow authors from both the UK and the US. One thing that Campbell had that her contemporaries didn’t, was the ability to straddle not only both sides of the English-speaking “pond,” but to also include France was well, where she lived for a time. This must have helped her post-Great War popularity, where she could bring realistic characters together from any of these allied countries.
Campbell makes practically no mention of the war, which makes sense since this book was released in 1929. Obviously, the 11 years since the war’s end certainly brought the worlds of these characters back to a semblance of normalcy. This did feel a bit strange to me, but I’m guessing that this was the norm at the time. That said, there was certainly an air of indecision for the main characters. Virginia seemed only half-heartedly interested in studying design when she meets up with Glenn. Glenn’s interest in architecture is also waylaid, but primarily by his entanglement with this older woman. In fact, everyone in this book seems to be on the edge of boredom, and while some of them seem to have unlimited wealth, neither Glenn nor Virginia are the types to live idle lives. And yet, they just don’t seem all that ready to settle down.
In fact, the relaxed attitude here carried through to the crime itself, which only happened nearly half way through the novel. Add to this how the police seem pretty lazy in their arresting the first person they suspect, and thereafter taking everyone and their initial statements at their face value. Okay, granted, if there seems an easy solution, and no credible alibi in sight, with the suspected killer mostly unwilling to give up any information that might clear him, that makes sense. I’m sure that it often happens that shoddy investigations and certain unrevealable secrets have sent innocent people to prison. And that’s where Campbell pulls in Virginia.
Now, I hesitate to call this a romance novel, because despite the way Campbell describes Virginia’s slowly evolving feelings towards Glenn, this is more of a reason for Virginia to table her fears and do some sleuthing in order to come to Glenn’s aid. As I was reading this book, I also realized that Campbell probably didn’t have any other novels with Virginia investigating any crimes, because Campbell doesn’t make her into a very proficient amateur detective. Oh, she certainly is smart enough, and has good instincts, but she’s also a bit on the gullible side, even when she gets suspicious of certain things. But she isn’t lazy, and she’s very determined, so that helps. I really liked Virginia, and I enjoyed watching her put through these paces to come to the ultimate solution.
The rest of Campbell’s cast of characters were also well drawn, and especially Pam and Henry – the victim’s two, adult children. While I had mixed feelings about both of them, they both fit in very nicely with the plot. Admittedly, this wasn’t the most thrilling of murder mysteries I’ve ever read, but it did have a few twists, several of which I didn’t see coming. I also think the conclusion of the novel was nicely done, even though there was one bit that seemed a bit unlikely, but I’m guessing research back when this was written wasn’t as good as it is today. All told, I enjoyed Campbell’s writing, and I’ve gone straight into reading the other book by her that Dean Street Press sent me – The Click of the Gate! I think this deserves a very healthy four out of five stars!
Originally published in 1929, Dean Street Press re-released “Water Weed” by Alice Campbell on June 2, 2022. This book is available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, Foyles, The Book Depository UK and Book Depository US (both with free worldwide delivery), Waterstones, WHSmith, Wordery UK and Wordery US, Kobo US (eBooks and audiobooks), the website eBooks.com, Booksamillion.com, iTunes (iBooks and audiobooks), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from as well as from Bookshop.org and UK.Bookshop (to support independent bookshops, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic) or an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an ARC of this novel.