Thursday, October 8, 2020

#1956Club: The Keys of My Prison

This book is my second submission for the 1956 Club hosted by Simon at Stuck in a Book and Karen at Kaggsy's Bookish Ramblings. The Keys of My Prison by Frances Shelley Wees is a novel of domestic suspense set in Toronto, Canada, and this was the first book by that author that I have read.

As the story opens, Julie is keeping vigil at her husband's bedside, nearly two weeks after he was in a terrible car accident. Rafe Jonason has been in a coma since the accident, but seems to be getting better. Rafe and Julie have been married 15 years and have an infant son. Julie was born with a disfiguring birthmark on her face, which affected how she was treated by people and her own self-image. The birthmark was removed after her marriage to Rafe, but she still bears the mental scars of its effects.

When Rafe awakens from his coma in the hospital, he doesn't know where he is or who Julie is, and his behavior is rude and vulgar. On his return to their home, he doesn't recognize it and he turns to drink and cigarettes, which are habits that Rafe never indulged in all the time that Julie knew him. He seems to have amnesia, but his personality is completely different. Julie doesn't know where to go from there. 

I liked the characterizations in this book. Not only the main characters but also the secondary characters are well defined and interesting. Julie is supported by both her Aunt Edie and the family doctor who was treating Rafe. Robin, a lawyer and close friend of the family, seeks help from a psychologist associated with the police, Jonathan Merrill. Once Rafe comes home, Henry Lake, a policeman who works with the psychologist, takes an undercover position at Julie's home for both her protection and to observe the situation. Merrill and Lake have been compared to Holmes and Watson, or Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin, in reviews I have read. The Wolfe / Goodwin comparison seems more apt to me, since Henry Lake takes a very active part in the case.

A major theme is identity. Not just Rafe's identity, but Julie's. Rafe is belligerent and swears he would never have married Julie. Julie is tense, scared, wonders what the future holds. Since their marriage, Julie has depended on Rafe's love and emotional support; now he is rejecting her, and showing a side of his personality that she has never seen. Did he every love her? What does her future hold?


Per the introduction by Rosemary Aubert in the Vehicule Press edition, the 1966 reprint edition was billed as "A Gothic novel of suspense." Not my usual type of reading, but I enjoyed it. The author takes a while setting up the situation but at no time did my interest lag. As the story played out I liked it more and more. The final resolution was interesting and handled well, although a lot of my questions were left unanswered.

I first heard about this book when Brian Busby discussed it at his blog, The Dusty Bookcase. He compared Wees's writing in this novel to Margaret Millar's, and I agree with that assessment, as Millar's book mainly focus on the psychology of relationships and behavior. A few years later, Brian was able to bring out this new paperback edition of the book as a part of the Ricochet Books imprint at Vehicule Press. 

The introduction by Rosemary Aubert is an excellent analysis of the book, but it reveals more of the story than I would want to know before reading the book. I saved it until after I finished the book.

 -----------------------------

Publisher:  Vehicule Press, 2017 (orig. pub., 1956)
Length:    187 pages
Format:   Paperback
Setting:   Toronto
Genre:    Domestic suspense
Source:   I purchased this book.


16 comments:

CLM said...

This sounds like my kind of book - I am completely unfamiliar with this author but recall you were working on a Canadian theme. I do read that she kept her US citizenship. My library doesn't have any of her books, which is a pity.

Glad you joined in the 1956 Club! It is a good distraction.

This made me think about a book that starts with a plane crash and a hero who doesn't recognize his wife. Hmmm, it may drive me crazy all evening. . .

Rick Robinson said...

And...as opposed to the previous comment, this sounds NOT like my kind of book. I like the teams you mention, but this sounds grim, which I’m not up to. By the way, I’ve read one, perhaps two, books by Aubert and liked them.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Having recently written the into to another Wees book, I found it hard not to discuss the plot in too much detail. It is a very tricky piece to write. I read a few of Richochet's other intros and different writers did very different things with their piece. One basically discussed Toronto at the time. I found that interesting so I tried to use mine to discuss what women were writing at the time.

Margot Kinberg said...

This one sounds very suspenseful, Tracy. It raises all sorts of possibilities, and it sounds as though the dynamics of the relationship are really explored here. I'm glad you thought it was worth the read.

TracyK said...

This is a new author to me also, Constance. Although I have not searched, I think one can find more of her books online, used. And Vehicule Press will be publishing another one soon: I Am Not Guilty (previously published as M’Lord, I Am Not Guilty).

I do remember now reading that the author had retained her US citizenship, although I can't find where I read that now. I assumed that meant she had dual citizenship, since she lived most of her life in Canada. But for the Canadian Books Challenge, the book can be set in Canada or by a Canadian author.

I cannot recall a book that starts with a plane crash with a hero who doesn't recognize his wife. If you remember, let me know.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Hello, Tracy! I'm not sure this is my kind of book. I'd read it on the strength of your review and not if I was to chance upon it at a bookseller and read the back page.

TracyK said...

Rick, this is not usually my kind of book either, but I don't mind reading this type of book now and then. I did not think of it as grim, but it does have a fairly dark ending.

TracyK said...

Patti, I imagine it would be hard to write an introduction to a novel without saying too much. I never read them before I read the book because you never know what it will tell you. But I enjoy reading them after I read the book. I think your approach is a very good one.

TracyK said...

Margot, the book is full of suspense and kept me busy trying to figure out where it was going. And the ending surprised me.

TracyK said...

Prashant, so good to hear from you. You might be right, this may not be your kind of book. But I am sure would find things to like about it if you did read it.

Reading Matters said...

One of the joys of book blogs is that we get introduced to so many interesting books we otherwise never would have heard of and The Keys to My Prison sounds very interesting and great review. I have downloaded a sample on my Kindle. Also the 1956 book club is also fascinating. The 1950's was a great decade for books and the book covers as well which in my opinion so much more artistic than the rather bland covers today.

TracyK said...

I agree with you, Kathy. I learn about so many new (to me) books at other blogs and my reading has expanded this year. I am ending up with too many books on my TBR pile though.

I also like book covers from the 1950's (and earlier decades) much better than most current covers.

Simon T (StuckinaBook) said...

Oh, I love this premise! And would love to read more Canadian lit. On the wishlist...

TracyK said...

It is a very good premise, Simon, and proves that it is good for me to step out of my comfort zone.

Clothes in Books said...

Never heard of this author, but the book sounds good and a comparison with Margaret Millar is very promising.

TracyK said...

Moira, I liked the book and it was not what I expected, which can be a good thing. Ricochet is publishing another by this author but it will not be out in the US until next year.