Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Last Vintage Mystery

ARMS FOR ADONIS – Charlotte Jay (1961)

 As it turns out, I thought I had concluded my eight books in the Golden Girls category of Bev’s Vintage Mystery Challenge but I was one book short. I decided to finish the challenge by trying a second book by Charlotte Jay, whose superb Beat Not the Bones had delighted me.  Arms for Adonis did not disappoint. This book is set in Beirut, a city so beautifully described by Jay that I could almost smell the hibiscus blooming.

Sarah Smith has decided to leave Marcel, her lover, and return to England. She is not an ideal heroine, being far too dreamy and distracted to take charge of her life. She drifts from man to man and situation to situation. As she wanders through the market on her way to the airport, a bomb explodes. In short order, Sarah is kidnapped by a handsome Syrian, sees him shot down, and finds herself delivering a message from him to a member of the Lebanese secret police.

I finished the book without really feeling that I had deciphered the plot. Like Middle Eastern politics in general, it was murky. Was Emile Khalife a villain or hero? Who was plotting against whom? Was Sarah caught up in a coup attempt or a tribal feud? And what of the English characters? Were they caricatures, dupes, plot devices? Upon reflection, it occurred to me that Jay must have intended that, like the country and people she described, the events of the book should remain shadowy and indistinct. The forces at work in the troubled region were and are too difficult to segment and categorize. We are left troubled and slightly bewildered about the story we have read, just as we wonder at the accounts we read today of the alliances and enmities, feuds and revolutions occurring in the Muslim world. Fifty years after its publication, Arms for Adonis illustrates that things change slowly, if at all, in the Middle East.

I’ll be searching out the rest of Charlotte Jay’s work. She’s an amazing writer.


  1. Enticing review. I love ambiguous plots that get your brain working. THE YELLOW TURBAN also has a Middle Eastern setting if I'm not mistaken. That's pretty easy to find in the cheap paperback edition. AFA is one of Jay's books I've owned for years and *still* haven't read it. Time for me to dip into her work. THE FUGITIVE EYE is around this mess of a place, too.

  2. You have no idea how envious I am when you casually mention that you have copies of Jay's work just hanging around, waiting to be read.

  3. I like that you compare the plot--murky and slow-changing--to the way of things in the Middle East. Very interesting. And congrats on finishing out your challenge 8!

  4. Thanks, Bev. I enjoyed it just as much as last year's challenge-maybe more as I found lots of new (to me) authors. Now I just have to do that wrap-up blog!