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Wingarden by Elsie Lee
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Wingarden by Elsie Lee

It's 1970; Chloe Wingate is 25 and comes to Richmond, Virginia, to claim her inheritance. She never knew her grandmother, who had disowned her son for marrying a Northerner. Wingarden is a big house with 90 acres of fields, managed by an elderly black couple. Two men appear on her doorstep, both distant cousins, and Chloe isn't sure if she can trust them. Do they want the estate for themselves? Is one of them behind the unexplained noises that can be heard in the house? What's the deal with the local segregationism and what part did her grandmother play in all this?

The book starts awsome: we read more about the house than about Chloe herself. It's full of old furniture, valuable paintings and other stuff. Half the house is hidden away and can only be reached through a secret doorway in the dining room. Chloe isn't very happy about the chance to go exploring; she's a thoroughly modern girl and would rather have spent her vacation surfing in Hawaii. She needs to go through everything, however, in order to find a missing last letter with instructions from her grandmother, and a few other things. It will be no surprise that these items won't be found until the final chapter. Someone else seems to be looking for something as well, hence the noises.

So the story is quite all right. I had no idea that things still could be so bad for colored people in the South of the U.S.A. around 1970. This affected the story as well, which isn't my preferred type of suspense supplier. I'd rather have things kept within the family, so to speak.

The heroine is smart, spunky, intelligent and wise. It's great to read how other people keep on thinking she's a silly little girl that needs to be protected from the responsibility of owning, clearing out and selling such a big estate. They don't know she's a summa cum laude graduate of Stanford and the stepdaughter of the 7th wealthiest man in the U.S. Chloe doesn't let on and the reader can enjoy looking forward to seeing everyone getting their comeuppances. Unfortunately, when the men finally realize Chloe is a force to be reckoned with, they still keep her in the dark as to what's going on, which puts her in mortal danger. Stupid men! They should have told her everything and then she could have been a valuable help in their investigations.

I didn't care much for the prose. It's like Elsie Lee thinks faster than her fingers type while writing the book and doesn't realize it. The story doesn't flow right. Also she should have explained more. For instance in the beginning of the book Chloe speaks about her parents and the Halves. Many pages after that she mentions this as well in a conversation and only when the other party inquires what she means by "Halves" does she explain these are her half-brothers and half-sister. Of course, this example was a rather obvious one, but there are many others that are worse. Have you heard of Fan-Tan? Plon-Plon? Martha Mitchell?
It's used as an inside joke not only between the people in the book, but also between the author and her readers. This could be all right if the joke can be easily understood, but that isn't always the case. The following meant nothing to me: "Madame Mallory was straight out of Jane Austen - Mrs. Eltham, for choice, although of course she did not refer to a barouche-landau. She did, however, make it clear that I was a barbarian from Ultima Thule, and could not be expected to know how to go on without the guidance of Mallorys." Elsie Lee could at least have used footnotes.

My verdict, a 7 out of 10

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