cover image A Double Life: Newly Discovered Thrillers of Louisa May Alcott

A Double Life: Newly Discovered Thrillers of Louisa May Alcott

Louisa May Alcott. Little Brown and Company, $17.95 (246pp) ISBN 978-0-316-03101-1

The five stories in this collection, published in serial form in the 1860s, were recently found to have been written anonymously by Alcott. Set against florid, romantic Victorian backdrops are plots that mine popular themes of the daymesmerism, Indian cults, death vows, doomed love. Written to hold the attention of a newspaper audience, the tales move along briskly. Readers will be immediately drawn into ``A Pair of Eyes,'' about a painter spellbound by his model for Lady Macbeth. ``The Fate of the Forrests,'' which hinges on a family curse, and ``A Double Tragedy: An Actor's Story,'' a story of jealousy and revenge set in a theatrical company, although well drawn, are almost campy in their melodrama. Based on The Tempest, ``Ariel, A Legend of the Lighthouse'' has an evocative, stormy coastal setting, but a familiar plot of love lost and then refound on the brink of death. ``Taming the Tartar'' is likewise unoriginal but is saved by its lively characters and offbeat ending, where its irrepressible heroine gets the last word. Stern's introduction is shallow and offers little more than vague generalizations about Alcott's life and work. Illustrations not seen by PW. (July)