Friday, July 30, 2010

Thank heaven Bunting lit the sign that night

The Lodger: A Tale of the London FogSome of my reading isn't reading at all - it's listening. I like to put audio books (many of which I download from the library) on my iPod for the hour each morning I spend at the gym. Of course, I suspect the people sweating on the treadmills around me would be surprised at what I was listening to, and one of the stranger books I've heard lately was The Lodger: A Tale of the London Fog by Marie Belloc Lowndes.

The Buntings are an elderly couple living in Victorian London. They're out of money and desperate when their fortunes are reversed by the appearance of a lodger. Mr. Sleuth is certainly eccentric and reclusive but he seems to be a gentleman, and the Buntings can't afford to be particular. But soon Mrs. Bunting begins to suspect that there might be some connection with their lodger and the mysterious murders reported in the papers. On nights when Mr. Sleuth quietly sneaks out of the house it seems that the next morning's papers announce another murder by "the Avenger."

Written in 1913 and based upon the “Jack the Ripper” murders, the book was also the inspiration for a silent film made by Alfred Hitchcock in 1927. And that's what drew me to read it, although I haven't yet watched the movie. But as it's nearly 100 years old, it's not as fast-moving as books today generally are, and I came very close to putting it down. But its strength is in the ability to develop and heighten tension and suspense (which, no doubt, appealed to Hitchcock). Having been saved from ruinous poverty and starvation by the lodger Mrs. Bunting becomes protective of her good fortune. She continually ignores her suspicions, even though the stress takes a serious toll on her health.

Perhaps the book is most interesting for the psychological profile of the Buntings as so totally dependent upon their lodger that they would ignore common sense (and a reward!). They risk the danger of harboring a murderer (and becoming "accessories to the crime") to avoid the shame that would come if their suspicious should turn out to be correct. Like I said before, it's not an especially gripping or fast-moving story like a Michael Crichton novel would be, but it's interesting... and a nice change of pace, too.

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