• U.S.

Books: Mixed Fiction, Apr. 11, 1955

3 minute read

DUTCH, by Theodore Bonnet (416 pp.; Doubleday; $3.95).

This time Theodore (The Mudlark) Bonnet has sited his wide-ranging fancy on the shore of San Francisco Bay. The whisky-spattered portrait that has hung so long over Dan McClatchy’s bar in Llagas, a chicken town near San Francisco, turns out to be a real Rembrandt. Carried away by sudden fame and the hope of fortune, Dan fancies up his place and reopens it as the “Lost Dutchman.” Feature writers, artists and slumming socialites flock in; they make even more of Dan, a rare, pure specimen of pre-Fire, South-of-Market Irishman, than of his Rembrandt. But local bluenoses denounce Dan and all his works and ways. After a sensational hearing in which his thirstiest patron blows the bluenosiest citizen right out of the water, Dan is stripped of his liquor license. The rest of the story tells how Dan is rescued from dry destruction and winds up in a saloonkeeper’s heaven on Nob Hill. Like Dan’s old tavern, the book is cluttered with all sorts of people—righteous madams, pining widows, pinko artists, lovelorn profs. It plays fast and loose with San Francisco’s dignity—not to mention the Dutch master’s. But it is big, breezy, and stacked with lusty action—more like a Bruegel than a Rembrandt.

THE HIDDEN RIVER, by Storm Jameson (244 pp.; Harper; $3), is a novel about sleeping dogs and their fierce awakenings. During World War II, a young Frenchman is betrayed to the Nazis by an unknown person and executed as a Resistance leader. Five years later, his widowed old mother and two of his cousins still live in the sunny, sleepy Loire Valley, trying not to remember too much. Into this setting comes a messenger of the Fates, in the guise of a British intelligence officer who used to work with the dead Resistance hero. The officer cannot rest until the last hound of the past is stirred up; one of the cousins, it turns out, was the betrayer. After a harrowing inquisition, the old lady sternly ordains that the boy must stand public trial. The sequel is shame, murder and flight—all contrasted with the lovely countryside, the growing vineyards where the grapes are not of wrath but of forgetful peace.

Yorkshire-born Storm Jameson has been writing this successful kind of brimstone and heartbreak novel for 36 years (The Captain’s Wife, The Green Man). She seems always to writhe right alongside her characters in all their anguished blindness. If she could ever appear to stand above them, Novelist Jameson might create true tragedy. As it is, she continues effectively enough in the task she set herself long ago—”not to cheat, but to record every item in the tale of mistakes, joys, cruelties, and simple meannesses that make up our dealings one with others.”

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