The Case of the Weird Sisters by Charlotte Armstrong

Weird SistersThe past is a foreign country…sometimes best not visited

😦 😦

On the rebound, Alice agrees to marry her rich boss, Innes, reckoning that if she can’t have love she might as well be rich. But a car breakdown means that Alice and Innes have to spend some time with his three older half-sisters and it’s soon clear that someone in the house would like to inherit Innes’ money before he marries. And it’s up to amateur detective MacDougall Duff to work out who the aspiring murderer is before she succeeds.

This book was first published in 1943 and I’m afraid it shows. While some books (Wodehouse, for instance, or Agatha Christie) have a timeless quality to them, and others can be forgiven a lot of outdated attitudes for the quality of the writing and story-telling (Rider Haggard springs to mind, or John Buchan), this one falls into neither of these categories. A fairly average mystery story with some extremely unpleasant racism and lots of disparaging jokes and comments about disability, this book made me feel quite queasy in places. I tried hard to make allowances for the time of writing, but to suggest not only that Native Americans smell and are stupid, but that any woman who has a sexual relationship with a Native American puts herself beyond the pale of civilised society and acquires the same unpleasant smell, takes racism beyond acceptable in any period surely?

Charlotte Armstrong(source: mysteriouspress.com)
Charlotte Armstrong
(source: mysteriouspress.com)

Which begs the question – should some books be allowed to quietly fade away rather than being republished into a time with very different attitudes? In general, I’d be reluctant to say so, but if a book has no particular literary or other merit, what’s the point of reviving it when there are so many new books out there looking for readers? One of the things that bothered me most about this book, though, is that of the few reviews it has garnered on Goodreads and Amazon since it was republished, only one other reviewer seems to have commented on the overtly racist aspects of it. Perhaps I’m particularly politically correct and overly sensitive. Or perhaps other people are better able to make allowances for the time of writing. Or perhaps casual racism is still considered OK.

I digress. The book is a reasonably well written mystery with a rather overly complicated solution. The three sisters are ‘weird’ – i.e. each has a disability, one blind, one deaf and one with an artificial arm. These disabilities are the subject of much speculation with regard to each sister’s ability or otherwise to have committed the various murder attempts. Each of the characters seems a little clichéd and Alice, our gold-digging heroine, comes over as very unlikeable in the early parts of the book although she improves somewhat as the book progresses. A fairly average book made unenjoyable by the outdated attitudes of both author and characters. I understand several of Armstrong’s books have been re-published, but I certainly won’t be reading any more of them.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

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