Originally published in 1941
It’s 1941, and San Francisco is pulsing with excitement—with hot jazz, ice-cold cocktails, and the ever-present threat of war. For Cameron Ferris, newly arrived from Tiny Town, Oregon, a seat on the sidelines is thrilling enough, so she’s delighted with her boring job as a file clerk in a warehouse. For a while. But now the while’s up, and Cameron is starting to feel like one of life’s wallflowers. For good or for ill, life is about to provide a cure, in the form of a strange man living in her apartment, kidnappers hanging out on the fire-escape, and all traces of her life scrubbed clean. Who is Cameron Ferris? Has she become so unspeakably dull that she simply disappeared? And what can an invisible person do to foil a gang of kidnappers? A highly unusual, thoroughly unnerving tale that sings with the music of the period.Blurb – Felony and Mayhem (2018 reprint)
I knew nothing about Lenore Glen Offord until a few days ago when Kate from CrossExaminingCrime mentioned how much she had enjoyed her work. Curious to learn more, I went online and discovered the absolutely gorgeous Felony and Mayhem reprints that came out a couple of years ago. Reader, I couldn’t resist. They were bought, I set aside the other books I was reading and immediately dug in.
Of the titles I picked up, I opted to start with The 9 Dark Hours in part because it was a standalone but also because I was intrigued by its setting. While I have yet to do much travel in the United States outside of the South since moving here a little more than a decade ago, I have spent time in San Fransisco which is a beautiful city. I also was struck by the idea that this would make an interesting contrast with the previous book I read, Baynard Kendrick’s Odor of Violets, as both take place at the point at which America is about to go to war.
The story introduces us to Cameron Ferris, a recent arrival in the city, who is working in a warehouse taking orders for things like ‘barswingles and Hagedorn clamps’ (these, she informs us, are not to be taken literally). It is not particularly glamorous work and she bemoans how nothing interesting ever seems to happen to her.
Cameron is persuaded to take a long weekend by her supervisor at the company who suggests a ‘quiet and decent’ place in the country that his mother had visited and highly recommended. While she instinctively wants to reject the suggestion, she finds she hasn’t the heart to and she packs herself off only to find the place a bust – quite literally in terms of the leaky roof – and so she leaves a day early.
When she returns home she is shocked to discover a ‘perfectly strange man’, just as shocked as her, inside her apartment which appears to have been refurnished…
As hooks for stories go, I felt that this was quite superb. The first chapters do a fine job of letting us get to know Cameron and experience that sense of exhaustion and confusion as she finds her life turned utterly upside down. While I had some immediate thoughts about the scenario, the author creates a sense of continuous discovery as we are presented with new details and learn more about the various characters.
I found Cameron to be a likable and sympathetic protagonist, not only because of the strangeness of the scenario she finds herself in but also because of the way she conducts herself throughout this adventure. She has an entertaining narrative voice, her reflections on the strangeness of her situation or the individuals she is interacting with often having humorous qualities to them.
Although the book might be fairly categorized as a Had I But Known-type story, Cameron’s decision-making is often good and when she does make errors of judgement, her reasons for doing so are usually quite understandable. I think what endears her most to me though is her assertiveness and her willingness to take action when she thinks it right.
I don’t want to spoil too much of what develops from this initial setup but I will say that the scenario Offord imagines is quite exciting and forces Cameron to make judgment calls and quick decisions on a number of occasions. Almost every chapter ends on some small reveal or moment that changes our understanding of the situation or that presents some new challenge, making for a very engaging reading experience.
The explanation for what is going on is quite exciting and it involves some interesting concepts that I hadn’t seen often in works from this era. It is not really the type of story where the reader is engaged with solving a puzzle – rather this is all about exploring the scenario and the action it prompts which builds nicely to a pretty thrilling conclusion. Offord does this really well, making for a very satisfying reading experience.
The 9 Dark Hours was my first Lenore Glen Offord but I am sure to read more. It’s a funny, exciting and thoroughly readable thriller with a great premise.
Have you read any Lenore Glen Offord? Which of her novels would you recommend?