Saturday, March 5, 2011

Book Review: Summer's Lease

Copyright © 2011, Steven E. Houchin. All rights reserved.

I recently finished John Mortimer's literary novel Summer's Lease. At first glance, it would seem to be another tedious story of a dysfunctional family. I was pleasantly surprised when plot elements of mystery and intrigue were introduced early.

The main character, Molly Pargeter, lives in England. She is "big-boned", has led a dull life lacking in ambition, and admires Italian paintings. She arranges a long summer vacation in Tuscany for her family: husband Hugh and the children. The arrangements are made by letter correspondence with a mysterious S. Kettering, who gives Molly precise, detailed instructions about use of his villa "La Felicita", such as "Above all, avoid flushing the lavatory next to the small sitting-room more than once in any given half hour or serious results may follow." Much to her chagrin, her gadfly father, Haverford Downs, manages to invite himself along. He writes a declining column for a low-rent publication, the Informer, convincing the editor that Tuscany was just the place to inspire his writing.

Once in Tuscany at La Felicita, Molly begins to notice odd happenings, the most dramatic of which is the sudden lack of water at the villa, including the remarkable disappearance of the pool's water overnight. She also becomes obsessed with meeting her landlord, S. Kettering, after finding a cryptic note that seems to indicate his imminent murder.

The story pulls the reader along from one curious event to another, as Molly's determination grows to find answers to the mysteries she sees. Along the way, her father makes mischeif, a murder happens, and Molly finds out her husband has been hiding something from her. The language is deliciously English, and there is a good cast of bit-players who keep things interesting.

Summer's Lease will keep you turning the page.

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