Content Warnings: murder, descriptions of murder weapons, near starvation, talk about hangings.
While I try hard not to change the books I’ve added to my list for the #20BooksofSummer challenge, one of the big motives for having book blog friends is to share books, consider recommendations, and connect even more after we’ve read the same books. What do I mean? FictionFan recommended The Lodger by Marie Belloc Lowndes recently, so I kicked one book off my list of 20 so that I could read her recommendation and chitter-chatter with her. Isn’t it neat that book bloggers can do that?
The Lodger was first published in 1913, and I listened to the audio book version, read by Lorna Raver. The novel is about the Buntings, a husband and wife who own a house with rooms to rent. Lately, two things affect them deeply: their lack of a lodger means they’re broke and nearly starving to death, and some brutal murders are happening in their area of London, murders committed by someone who calls himself “The Avenger.” The plot is a clear parallel to the Jack the Ripper murders in London in 1888. The Ripper murdered prostitutes; The Avenger seems to be killing women who take to the drink.
Mr. and Mrs. Bunting don’t suffer from near starvation for too long in the novel (we start with them nearly starved and quickly move on). One night, a knock on the door brings them Mr. Sleuth, an eccentric gentleman looking for a place to stay where he will be left alone, far from the other folks in the house, and where he can access a stove that reaches high temperatures for his experiments. He finds the Buntings’ lodgings perfect; in fact, he rents two rooms, and the Buntings’ financial worries are over.
As time goes on, Mrs. Bunting suspects her lodger is The Avenger. He leaves after midnight, returns before dawn, reads passages in the bible about punishment aloud in his room. But really, she can’t completely convince herself he’s a murderer, and she won’t believe it until it’s completely confirmed — he’s a real gentleman (with money)! She’s alone in her concerns because Mr. Sleuth only wants Mrs. Bunting to bring his meals and clean his rooms, so other characters forget he’s there.
The great thing about Lowndes’s plot is the tension she creates. Mrs. Bunting both defends and fears her lodger. His money keeps her alive, but does that make her complicit in the London murders that has everyone all a tizzy? If she tells the police her suspicions, but she’s wrong about her lodger, he’ll certainly move out. Tension thickens when Daisy, Mr. Bunting’s daughter from his first marriage, arrives for a visit. Typically, she lives with “old aunt,” but now a young girl in the house . . . and possibly a murderer (muh-hahaha!!).
And then there’s Joe Chandler, a young police officer who is friends with the Buntings and drops by with tidbits about the police force’s work to find The Avenger that haven’t yet made it into the newspapers. I was always on edge, waiting to see who would crack, who would die, and who would identify the serial killer!
It doesn’t help when Joe Chandler takes Mr. Bunting and Daisy to the museum of murderers where they see actual murder weapons and plaster casts of faces of those hanged, which capture the killer in great detail. All I could think about was the hygiene and medicine of the day. Add to the recipe murder and hanging, and I was feeling a bit pukey.
My audio book narrator added a lot of tension in her voice. Each character had a distinct sound, so in a sense, Lorna Raver acted the book (and I wonder what FictionFan thinks about that; she, too, is an audio book consumer). But I felt Daisy’s sweet, young voice really set her apart from the shouty, stressed-out Mrs. Bunting (who is shouty and stressed out because her source of income may be slaying — and not in the way people use that word today!). Best of all, Lorna Raver provided a clear yet rapidly-paced narration, which kept this book from dragging on (it’s 8 hours/30 minutes). Highly recommended; a great horror tale!