The Riddle of the Alabaster Royal
I’ve rewritten this review three times now. Trying to be fair both to the book and to its potential readers takes time when your fingers keep committing Freudian slides into the vitriolic. After all, this book was my runner-up for Worst Read of 1998.
Captain Jack Vespa returns to England after having been wounded in the war against Napoleon. He moves into his inherited manor, Alabaster Royal, only to be confronted by Consuela, a girl who has moved into the house with her grandmother in order to solve her father’s murder. Vespa discovers that many people would prefer to see Alabaster Royal sold, even if he and Consuela have to die first. As he resists the pressure, the sabotage escalates and the corridors teem with prowlers and would-be murderers. At the final confrontation, it is revealed to what depths men can sink when driven by greed.
Consuela is described as feisty by the back-blurb. I have nothing against feisty heroines as such, but she comes across as a self-centered brat who cannot resist picking a quarrel. The line between self-reliance and stupidity is fine. To begin stalking would-be murderers with the phrase, “she followed, of course,” brings Consuela firmly down on the latter side.
Captain Vespa is a nice guy but his lack of adult reaction to being baited was irksome. Also, “Vespa” is a modern-day brand of motor-scooter, so whatever he did, Captain Vespa’s actions were too unremarkable to dispel that image.
Secondary characters abound, most of which have some quaint dialect or foreign accent. There are plenty of descriptions according to the school of, “tell, don’t show.” The story itself twists and turns for no obvious reason, to the point where I wished for my pruning shears.
To be blunt, the ending did it. Up until four pages from the end, The Riddle of Alabaster Royal was a disappointing read but not much worse. While I’m not a militant happily-ever-after addict, I crave a good ending. Without revealing any details, this book provides neither.
I really wanted to like this book. Honestly, I did! I loved the set-up with the war-weary officer returning to civilization. The Riddle of Alabaster Royal might make a good first draft or a rewrite project for a writer’s circle. What it doesn’t make is a good read.