Rich socialite Anastasia Endicott is snowbound on her way to a country dance and is rescued from icy death only by the timely arrival of Thurly Macdonald, who takes her back to his mother’s cottage. Thurly is a preacher and his mother Margret worries that this young “worldling” is going to turn his heart. Tasha soon goes home but forgets the shoe she lost in the snow, which Thurly found and keeps meaning to return but never does. Thurly must be out of town for several weeks, and not wanting his mother to be left alone, a companion is arranged — her niece, Hesba. Hesba is training to be a social worker or some such, but despite her devotion to “the Cause”, Margret takes a strong aversion to the girl and her plain attempt to seduce Thurly. Tasha, ignorant of religion as she may be, starts to look a lot more preferable.
Cutting to the chase, Hesba eventually finds a man demure enough to accept her domineering and quits Thurly, to Margret’s great relief. Tasha finds Jesus and she and Thurly live happily ever after.
Inscription: On the front flyleaf, “Waterboro Aug 16 1932, Ida R. Burbank”. On a little folded card pasted to the back endpaper, “J.R. Libby Co, 8/2 75”.
Craw is a shy and reclusive (you might even say borderline-agoraphobic) newspaper man, but for all his timidity in person, he’s a firebrand with his pen. His papers are the most widely read in Britain and his opinions exert no small influence over the public. It’s this which attracts the Evallonian royalists to him. A republic since the war, the small eastern European country of Evallonia is embroiled in conflict and in the middle of a possible regime change, and Prince John wants Craw’s help to sway the League of Nations in his favor. The republicans, meanwhile, want to catch the Prince with his pants down — grovelling to the foreign press in an effort to overthrow the legitimate government.
Confronting either is a terrifying prospect for Craw, and not without danger, for the republicans are a ruthless bunch. Castle Gay, Craw’s Scottish retreat, is virtually besieged by the Evallonians and by rival reporters, eager to interview the influential recluse. It’s a sticky situation, but not beyond Jaikie. Jaikie is a local Scottish boy who’s at home on break from Cambridge and quite accidentally finds himself Craw’s guardian. Jaikie and his friends remove the Evallonians with minimal scandal, and Craw breaks through his shell and discovers the confidence to confront his opponents in person as well as on the page.
A collection of short stories that starts out decently but just seems to get worse and worse as it goes along. The stories that are either weird tales or at least have strong supernatural elements, like “The Flat on the Fourth Floor” or “The Rievault Crucifix”, are the best in opinion. The plots themselves may be simplistic and formulaic, but they have a good atmosphere and some creepy imagery. This extends to a lesser degree to a couple of the stories that aren’t supernatural at all but do have an air of unexplained mystery, like “The Buttertubs Pass” and the titular “Behind the Monocle”.
Most of the stories in this collection aren’t like these, though. The majority are… I’m not quite sure what to call them — it’s a long build-up that ends with a vague joke. They’re not exactly shaggy dog stories. With shaggy dog stories, the humor comes from the long, rambling set-up that never actually reaches a punchline. These stories have punchlines, it’s just that by the time you get to one, you’ve totally lost interest.
Then there are stories like “The Wheatstack” and “The Coming of a Comet”, that, were they expanded into novels, I actually think could have been pretty good, but in short-story form, they just don’t manage to do much of anything with their ideas.