The Chink in the Armour by Marie Belloc Lowndes

Place your bets…

😀 😀 😀 🙂

Our naive young heroine, Sylvia Bailey, was married at nineteen to a man many years her elder. Now, still only in her twenty-fifth year, she is a widow – beautiful and wealthy, and keen to experience something of the world. So off she goes to Paris where she makes friends with another guest in the hotel – Anna Wolsky, slightly older than her and with a gambling habit that could easily be called an addiction. Anna introduces Sylvia to Lacville, a little town not far from Paris, the main attraction of which is its casino which draws all sorts of people, desirable and undesirable, to its gaming rooms. One of the desirables is the swoonworthy Count Paul de Virieu, who is staying at the same guesthouse as Sylvia. He has looks, a title, an aristocratic family, a sexy French accent – everything a girl could desire, in fact. Unfortunately he is also a gambling addict, having already lost the fortune he had inherited. Sylvia, of course, feels that she can change him. Meantime, various people warn Sylvia not to openly wear the ostentatious pearls she bought herself as a kind of symbol of her new-found freedom, since some of the undesirables around town may be tempted by them into nefarious deeds. Our Sylvia ignores all warnings, of course. And then Anna, having had a big win one evening, disappears…

This is quite fun, although it’s far too long for its content (proving it’s not only contemporary crime fiction that suffers from this problem). It’s pretty obvious from early on which characters are goodies and which are baddies, although it’s not obvious to our Sylvia who almost inevitably trusts the untrustworthy and dismisses the good people who are trying to warn her she’s putting herself in the way of danger. Still, it wouldn’t be much of a book if she’d listened to them, left Lacville and put her pearls in the bank, I suppose. Instead, she sets out to find out what happened to Anna, to cure Count Paul from his gambling fever, and to have a little fun along the way. But dark deeds are looming and Sylvia is soon in peril.

Marie Belloc Lowndes

Sylvia is so naive and trusting it’s almost painful to watch her, especially since the idea of her taking off to Paris on her own is delightfully liberated for the period – the book was published in 1912. She’s certainly strong-willed, but seems to lack any kind of judgement regarding other people or her own safety. Back home in England, William Chester, the young trustee of the legacy left her by her husband, is waiting patiently for her to sow her wild oats, so to speak, and then come back and settle down into the respectable role of being his wife. Eventually he follows her to France, and is frankly horrified to find her in a gambling town, flirting with a penniless, if sexy, Frenchman. Is Paul after her money, or is he truly in love? Will Sylvia abandon her home country to live a precarious (if exciting) existence with her gambling Count, or will she return to England and a life of safe (if dull) domesticity with sensible Charles? Will Anna ever re-appear? Will Sylvia’s pearls lead to tragedy? Or will it all end happily ever after?

Not a patch on the wonderful The Lodger, the only other of her novels that I’ve read, but enjoyable enough. I do wish someone had insisted on editing out about a third of it though – it would have been a better book as a result. It has a kind of dramatic denouement filled with danger when all is revealed, but it’s so slow getting there and is all too well signalled for there to be much tension. However young Sylvia is an entertainingly wilful heroine, even if I did spend most of the time wanting to knock some sense into her. And it’s probably an age thing, but I really found sensible Charles much more attractive than sexy Paul… hey ho!

Book 2 of 12

This was the People’s Choice for February (I’m late!) – an entertaining choice! Well picked, People!

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42 thoughts on “The Chink in the Armour by Marie Belloc Lowndes

  1. It does sound like an interesting look at the times, FictionFan, and Belloc Lowndes was good at that, in my opinion. That’s an interesting setting and context, too; the casino life and its denizens make for a deliciously murky sort of background. But I know exactly what you mean by the need for an editor. I’ve been reading several books lately that could be at least a third shorter than they are. Oh, well, it sounds like a good, solid, enjoyable read anyway, and I’m glad.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The casino town was a really interesting setting and I don’t remember gambling addiction being addressed much in vintage crime – not as early as this anyway. She was quite realistic about it too – no suggestion that it would be easy for sexy Count Paul to suddenly change his spots, even for love! But the length issue is annoying – it so often feels that a book would have been better if only the author/editor had cut out lots of the repetitions.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Ah, clearly not just a modern problem – although I thought there were more editors back then (and more demanding ones). Still, it sounds like fun – I’d have had an adventure with the sexy French count and then possibly settled down.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I think I have to agree with you, but not having read this one, I probably don’t have the wherewithal to kick some sense into poor Sylvia! Sounds like an entertaining — if too long — read though.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sylvia probably wouldn’t have listened to either of us anyway – she was strong-willed, if naive! Yes, it’s unusual for me to be complaining about excessive length in a book of this vintage but her editor must have been asleep… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I was just thinking this sounds like good fun when you said ‘not a patch on The Lodger’ so what I know for sure is that I must read Marie Belloc Lowndes! And what a great hat!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, yes, it’s a great photo! The Lodger really is great, but it does seem to be in a different class to her other stuff, although this is enjoyable. Hitchcock also made a brilliant silent movie version of The Lodger, though as usual he made some pretty major changes to the plot. Both highly recommended though!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Very entertaining review, FF, although naive Sylvia sounds a bit much at times (if she were starring in a modern horror movie, she’d run upstairs to the windowless attic to escape the monster!). I’m afraid that, if I decide to try Lowndes, I’ll probably go with The Lodger (just read your review BTW).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, Sylvia would have been quite likely to invite the monster to dinner in the hopes she could change him! 😉 It was odd that she was so naive given her brave decision to go off travelling on her own, but I guess if she’d been sensible it would have been a short and not very interesting book! The Lodger is in a different class – it’s one of those ones that takes up permanent residence in the memory. Poor Mrs Bunting’s dilemma is so well portrayed. If you do ever get to read it, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’d have to see what the other choice were to remember if I voted for this or not.

    At first glance, I wasn’t tempted, but your review might just have me reconsidering…

    Liked by 1 person

    • I reckon people should always take credit for voting for the good ones, and deny voting for the bad ones – my memory’s so bad I’d never know! 😉 I think if you ever do decide to try Lowndes, you’d be better reading The Lodger. This one is fun, but The Lodger is in a different class of good.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. This sounds quite fun, although I do occasionally lose patience with young, naive protagonists. It all depends on how they are written. For more character-driven crime (where I enjoy reading about the characters) I don’t mind meanderings, lack of plot and a high page number. For plot-driven, I prefer a relatively short and tight story.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, this one is definitely plot-driven and would have worked better with a faster pace. However, The Lodger, another of her books, is very much all about the characters and I don’t remember having any issues with the pace in it. In general, I prefer crime to be fast and plot-driven – it suits the genre better, I think. Though of course there are always exceptions!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. In these “one dashing rogue, one boring-but sensible man” love triangles, I always find myself rooting for the sensible choice. Which is unfortunate, because normally the author is on the side of the rogue!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, me too! Always preferred Darcy to Wickham! But yes, authors often seem to find the sensible choice too dull. Makes me wonder what their marriages are like… 😉


  9. Random thought: is ‘hey ho’ a scottish saying? I used to work with a woman who grew up in Scotland and she always says that…”Hey ho”! I love it actually, I found I started saying it myself…

    Liked by 2 people

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