James Ronald published six novels under the name of Michael Crombie between 1934 and 1936, before reviving the alias for one last go with The Frightened Girl in 1941. I’m going with the last one first since the rest of the Crombie titles are extremely difficult to find, and will cost you an arm and a leg even if you get lucky. Admittedly, The Frightened Girl will likely cost you a fortune as well, but I got lucky in my hunting and found a copy for below $10. Almost too good to be true…
The story opens with a “frightened girl” – Cecily Foster – spotted leaving the scene of a murder, and we view the story through sympathetic eyes that tell us that she wasn’t responsible. Amateur detective / professional crime reporter Julian Mendoza makes a similar observation of innocence and spends a few chapters throwing the police off her scent. The murder itself is nothing that interesting: Cecily clocked a frisky studio exec over the head and then fled the scene, and it appears someone else put a bullet in the man’s head before he came to. It’s one of those open ended mysteries where I find myself not really looking forward to the solution, as inevitably it will turn out that one of a dozen suspects just showed up and shot him.
Except in this case there’s only really one solid character who has enough presence on page to provide a non-random killer, and so I didn’t even have that banal ending to look forward to. But not too worry, because there isn’t really any detection to go along with it. Instead the story focuses on Mendoza cleaning up some loose ends regarding a potential witness, as well as helping our heroine put on a display of well being when her worried mother comes into town to check on her.
We then get a quick two chapter subplot where Cecily tries out for a film role with a notoriously tough director and nails the audition. And then, ladies and gentlemen, the book abruptly ends. I shit you not.
I sat there engulfed in a miasma of confusion, my brain trying to process whether it had been drugged, and my eyes checking to see if there were signs of pages missing from the book. Nope, I was fully lucid and my copy was intact. The story really just ends, and I guess maybe the point was that our “frightened girl” had blossomed into an upcoming actress ready to take on the world?
But… but… what about the mystery? The murder, right? Was it that one viable suspect who ended up committing it? Honestly, I’m not sure. With twenty pages left there is a phone call where Mendoza points the police towards a witness who may know the identity of the killer. But then the topic of the murder never comes up again. Instead the story focuses on that whole acting bit, and then there’s a scene where Mendoza admits that he may have loved Cicely, although she had been engaged the entire time and there was never even a sparkle of romance between the two characters. But yeah, apparently the murder wasn’t that important – “forget it Jake, it’s Chinatown” perhaps? – and we never find out if anyone was arrested or anything.
Well, it turns out I’m a bit of a moron (in case you didn’t know already). My book was indeed missing thirty pages, and it seems glaringly obvious now, even though I swear I looked when the story first came to an abrupt end. Indeed, page 88 gives way to page 119, which led to a wall of an ending considering this is a short 120 page affair. And there’s a funny coincidence that the story/sentence flow from page 88 kind of makes sense when continued onto page 119, and so there you have the worlds strangest illusion.
I guess that explains the price tag, folks, and perhaps there’s a lesson somewhere in there. It’s a first for me – making it 70 percent of the way through a book that I’ll never know the true ending of. If someone wants to provide the details (in rot-13 to avoid spoilers), I’m all ears, although honestly the mystery wasn’t compelling at all and I’m barely curious how this one turned out.
The Frightened Girl is a republishing of a 1933 novel that James Ronald released as Cross Marks the Spot. There’s a review of the latter over at The Invisible Event, and the details of the review match what I read exactly, and so I’m guessing this is a relabeling rather than a rewrite. Perhaps with an abridgment since 120 pages is so short. On the plus side, the Invisible Event review doesn’t make any mention of a clever or satisfying solution to the mystery, and so I’m going to guess that it was the one obvious suspect using the murder mechanism theory that Julian Mendoza pulls out of thin air during a scene just past the midway point.
Well, I was hoping I had a little gem on my hands for you, but this was ultimately forgettable, although it read well enough. Here’s to bargain books and missing pages!
3 thoughts on “The Frightened Girl – Michael Crombie (1941)”
Ha, that’s hilarious! I remember once reading a novel — Point of Impact by Stephen Hunter, which was made in to the surprisingly passable film Shooter starring Mark Wahlberg — and dropping it in the middle of a chapter, only to pick it up and, after checking, recommence reading exactly where I’d left off…thinking nothing of the sudden change in focus of one element of the plot, putting it down to lazy writing. Upon finishing it, I went back to reread part of it and — yup — found that I’d somehow skipped the ten pages which made it all make sense…even though what I’d read first time around made perfect sense, too.
As to this, its certainly the least pressing of the Ronalds I’ve read, but I always enjoy his prose — which I get the impression may have suffered here, as it sounds for all the world like an abridgement (a surprisingly large number of Ronald’s books were abridged when reprinted). You’re welcome to my copy if you’d like to see it in is fullest form, but there are other titles of his I’d advise checking out first.
Thanks for the offer, but of all the books worthy of sending across the Atlantic, this probably falls towards the bottom of the list.
My first copy of And Then There Were None had a major gap which included the next to last death. I suspect yoyu did not miss out on a major classic in the same way.
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