Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Lodger by Marie Belloc Lowndes

Title: The Lodger
Author: Marie Belloc Lowndes
Publisher: Academy Chicago Publishers
Pages: 224
Rating: 4/5 Stars

I cannot believe how long it took me to read this. Really, it had nothing to do with the book and everything to do with other things occupying my attention.

I have an unhealthy fascination with true crime. I could watch Investigation Discovery 24/7 much to the dismay of my roommate - then again, she could watch Grey's Anatomy and Ugly Betty 24/7 with a healthy dose of Say Yes To The Dress thrown in there to torment me, so I'd say we're even - so it should come as no surprise that I'd be equally interested in reading what is considered to be the first true crime novel.

Written by a woman, no less.

I'm not a feminist in the strictest sense, but I love the fact that The Lodger was written by a woman. Considering the times Ms. Lowndes lived in, I find it wonderful that she was able to get this novel published.

The Lodger is a very obvious homage to the most notorious unsolved serial killer in London at the time - Jack the Ripper. Told mostly through the third person perspective of Mrs. Bunting - half of a married couple on the brink of financial disaster - The Lodger tells the story of The Avenger. A madman stalking the streets of London at night and savagely killing immoral women, specifically those who enjoy a little too much alcohol.

From the beginning, Ms. Lowndes leads the reader to suspect Mr. Sleuth, Mrs. Bunting's lodger who's serendipitous arrival saves the Bunting household from financial ruin, of being the perpetrator of The Avenger crimes. The point of the story is less who-dun-it and more psychological rollercoaster as we take the journey with Mrs. Bunting from mild suspicion to outright certainty that her savior is actually a psychotic killer. By the time the ending arrives - a marvelously open-ended conclusion - Mrs. Bunting is on the brink of complete emotional and physical breakdown.

Questions go unanswered in The Lodger: where did Mr. Sleuth get his money? What were his motivations? What experiments was he conducting in the second room he was renting from the Buntings? Still, I was not left unsatisfied. Perhaps it was from reading the entire book knowing Mr. Sleuth was the killer or perhaps it was my desire for Mrs. Bunting to get some relief from her emotional torment, but when Mr. Sleuth finally disappeared into the busy streets of London, I was simply glad to see him go. Mrs. Bunting wasn't the most likable character I'd ever read, but she was a good person and Ms. Lowndes did a marvelous job of making me understand her desperation and fear from the very first page.

From a technical standpoint, The Lodger did not feel as dated as I expected. I found it a very easy read, not bogged down by descriptions of the scenery or daily life as some pre-television/movie classics can be. Ms. Lowndes's pacing was also excellent, in my opinion, and she did not drag her story out unnecessarily. What's really commendable, though, is her characterization and using some truly horrific crimes as a framework for a psychological horror story.

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