Strangers in the Night
Genevieve St. John | Paperback Library | 1967 | 171 pages
Strangers in the night exchanging glances
Wond’ring in the night what were the chances
We’d be sharing love before the night was through
Something in your eyes was so inviting
Something in your smile was so exciting
Something in my heart told me I must have you
No, Strangers in the Night doesn’t have anything to do with the Frank Sinatra song.
Lesley Larkin, junior law clerk at MacMillan, MacMillan and MacMillan, travels to Medwick Manor (alliteration anyone?) to assist her client, Elsa Medwick, in selling the family estate, which passed to her on her twenty-first birthday. Although away for over fifteen years, Elsa harbors a deep resentment towards her childhood governess, Angelica Foster, who has been living at Medwick Manor on an annual stipend from Elsa’s late father. George Larkin also provided for Angela’s living arrangements in his will; as long as the estate remains in the family, she will be allowed to reside in the mansion rent-free.
Elsa discovers that Angela is not alone in the manor house, and the other residents have their own personal agendas regarding the pending sale. Dr. Coronado, a Cuban refugee staying on as Angela’s personal physician, tends to her physical therapy needs. He also seems to be engaging in strange experiments of his own behind the locked cellar door, and openly warns Lesley to change her client’s mind about selling.
Maria, the housekeeper (speaking in an affected, Speedy Gonzales style of English: “Si, senora. Ees no problema. And I breeng thees luggage.”), seems affable until Lesley enters her kitchen, triggering an uncharacteristic fit of rage. Even Frank Barrett, the handyman, and Alan Crandall, the prospective buyer of the estate, whisper warnings to Lesley to keep quiet about what she sees at the estate.
The warnings are not unfounded; after dinner Elsa has a strange fit and is temporarily incapacitated. Although Leslie suspects poisoning, Dr. Coronado quickly dismisses the incident as an epileptic fit, even though Elsa has no history of the disease. During a nighttime walk on the cliffs, Leslie notices a dark shape offshore. Before she can make it out, she is struck from behind and passes out. Later, after being rescued from the rocks by Frank, she is convinced that an anesthetic gas is pumped into her room to quell any further snooping. And just who is that man with the pockmarked face she encounters after-hours in the kitchen, climbing the stairs from the locked cellar door?
The narrative places Leslie in an environment of danger and suspicion, but Medwick Manor is not the “accursed place” with a “growing legend of evil” that the cover blurbs suggest. When revealed, the intrigues are disappointingly political rather than supernatural, and the action-based finale is somewhat out of place for the gothic mystery setting. The ultimate resolution is as impractical as a similar hypothesis posited earlier in the story. Strangers in the Night does employ an interesting variation on Chekov’s gun principle; when the protagonist sees a pleasantly tight-shirted man in the first act, she ends up married to him in the epilogue.