Thursday, September 9, 2010


This 1980 Wolfe ghost story isn't overly ambitious, and focuses on its subject's senses and moods to create a languorous excitement.

The story concerns a couple who seems none too interested in each other. There are hints of incest, which is to become a theme here and Wolfe is rife with incest, period.

There was a murder at the Pines. We know that the victim was one Betty Malone, a maid in the house. We also know for certain that a man who also had the surname of Malone hanged himself shortly thereafter.

The butler Priest has had previous experiences with couples coming to the house. He may have had sex with a previous mistress of the house because he makes it clear to the narrator that he wants nothing to do with Marcella.

The master of the house is not this man's son, as we learn later that he had no son. He is the gardener in the music room. Wolfe scholar Roy C. Lackey sheds light on his identity:

But, you will say, if KM was not the child of either, much less both, of the dead Malones, how is it that he was an orphan? He wasn't. The text does not say that. The narrator asks, "I wondered why you had to leave and go into the orphanage. Did your parents die or lose their places?" (p-47). Priest and KM then give the sketchy account of the murder/suicide, in the course of which Priest says of the elder Malone "'s possible he was accused falsely." (p-48) Precisely. The elder Malone didn't kill Betty Malone. KM's father or mother killed her (probably the father, as a hammer was used, a tool of a 'handyman'). Betty was a young "tramp" (p-48). She was sleeping with both KM's father and the elder Malone. One of KM's parents killed her, out of jealousy/rage. The elder Malone committed suicide, either out of grief or guilt. The suicide following closely the murder, "they" (the police) assumed that the elder Malone was the murderer. Case closed.

You can find the full text of the story here.

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