The edge of running water by William Sloane
New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1955 (1st ed. 1939)
(Digitised copy access via openlibrary.org)
As an avid reader of the New York Review of Books, I keep an interest in, and am notified about, the books released by their publications arm New York Review Books. I recently came across a blurb for their recently published omnibus of William Sloane's novels, which intrigued me enough to scout out one of his works, which I fortunately found as a freely borrowable ebook on openlibrary.org.
Fortunate being an appropriate word, as this book rises above the ruck of the run-of-the-mill SciFi and Horror written in the '30s. In fact this book crosses a few genres: SciFi, Horror, Mystery, Detective Novel and even a bit of Romance thrown in to spice up the mix.
The nuts and bolts of the story: Psychology Professor Richard receives a letter from a former mentor and electrophysicist friend of his Julian, to come to his country retreat to help him on a problem he has been working on for some time. Julian dropped out of Richard's life after the death of Julian's wife Helen, a woman Richard also loved.
Richard arrives in small-town Maine to find Julian shacked up in a remote house working on a mysterious apparatus, with an even more mysterious assistant, Mrs. Walters. Helen's younger sister Anne is also in the house, having just arrived back from Europe. Richard soon sees that all is not well, with Julian clearly ill. At first Julian will tell Richard nothing about his experiment, which is carefully locked away in one room of the house. The novel revolves around Richard's piece- by-piece unveiling of Julian's purpose, which then becomes tied up in the death of his housekeeper Mrs. Marcey, who apparently dies in a fall at the house.
The true horror of Julian's mania, and his genius in unveiling a new power to science come together in a final scene, which I won't reveal here.
Where Sloane has succeeded beyond the hack writers, is in his effective and efficient character building, and in the way builds the horror of what might be happening without revealing too much until the end of the book. Mrs. Walters remains an ambiguous character until very far into the book, and even after the last page it is unclear if Julian had succeeded in what he had set out to accomplish.
The readability and page-turning nature of this book is evinced in the fact that I knocked if off in a little over three hours. This isn't great literature, but for the type of book it is, it rises above the ruck.
Cheers for now, from
A View Over the Bell