The Scarlet Rider

Lucy Sussex, Author
Lucy Sussex, Author Forge $23.95 (0p) ISBN 978-0-312-85293-1
Reviewed on: 09/02/1996
Release date: 09/01/1996
Mass Market Paperbound - 350 pages - 978-0-8125-4923-2
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A mystery within a mystery, this literary detective novel set in Australia begins when unemployed college graduate Mel Kirksley bumps into her ""almost step-mother,"" who knows of a perfect temporary job. Soon, Mel is hired by Roxanna Press, a feminist publishing company, to sleuth out the name of an anonymous author whose 1865 novel was serialized in the Tolletown Chronicle newspaper. On a hunch, Mel solves an acrostic puzzle in the novel's opening lines of poetry, discovers the author's name, Melvina Mary Yuill, and becomes convinced that she, Melvina Marie Kirksley, is related to the mysterious writer. Further research reveals the novel to be a thinly disguised autobiographical tragedy: set in a mining town during the Australian Gold Rush, it relates the story of Red Meg, a tavern-keeper, her lover, Constable Anysley Dacre of the mounted police, and the misogynistic Chief Inspector James Renfrew Justperson, who connived to keep them apart. Mel is suddenly haunted by strange dreams, which thrust her into the scenery of the Victorian novel, and memory lapses, one of which results in her bringing home a kangaroo tail for dinner instead of a steak. Not surprisingly, her odd behavior disrupts the delicate balance of friendship between her and her two roommates, medical student Marc, who is also her lover, and Mayzee, a possessive and manipulative dialysis patient. One coincidence follows another, until Mel runs smack into an Aynsley Dacre look-alike who turns out to be the fictional character's real-life counterpart's descendent. As a first novelist, Sussex shows a flair for lively narrative, but too many coincidences and an unsatisfying ending detract from her original premise. (Sept.)
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