by Brad Nelson
This is between a long short story and a short novella. Nevertheless, The Agony Column is a satisfying read. As in Earl Derr Biggers’ “Chan” novel, The House without a Key, Biggers describes, with affectionate care, the details of the place, in this case, London.
An American playwright is in London on business, a London set mere weeks before The Great War breaks out. He walks into his usual restaurant one evening to enjoy his strawberries and to read the “agony” column (sort of the British equivalent to the “personals” section) in his penny newspaper and takes notice of a beautiful lady and her father at the next table. She also is infatuated with reading the agony columns.
They part without saying a word to each other. But Geoffrey West decides to take a chance and try to make contact through the agony column, which he does. Meanwhile a mystery — a murder — unfolds above the apartment in which Geoffrey West is temporarily lodged and he begins to write personal letters (he got her address from the column) to his would-be love about his adventures.
And this is convenient because his would-be love told him that she would decide whether or not to meet him face-to-face based upon the content of his letters. That is, is this fellow interesting enough to even bother with?
So most of this novella (or long short story) is composed of West’s letters to his would-be love, letters that tell of the unfolding of this mystery that he quickly finds himself quite involved in. And reading these letters is great fun and reminds you how much we have lost as a people when we reduced our thoughts to mere one-liners (if that) via text messaging and such. And, of course, reading books in themselves are a refutation of the generally superficial and dumbed-down culture that we live in today.
Letter-writing used to be an art, and this book is a great reminder of that. And it’s a reminder of the great romance that used to exist between men and women, partly enhance by such literary courting and foreplay as letters. And it’s also a wonderful (if fairly short) mystery. This book would be the perfect one to read on a plane, bus, or train. You’d likely finish it. I definitely give this book 3.2 really-nice-gardens out of 5. Best of all, it’s available for free download from Gutenberg.org. • (1611 views)