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The Secret Of Trescobell: A Romantic Mystery…
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The Secret Of Trescobell: A Romantic Mystery (1931)

by Joseph Hocking

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Benjamin St Hilary, a struggling young novelist, visits the village of Trescobell in Cornwall, and finds himself entranced by the beauty of his surroundings. Near the village stands the ruins of an ancient house, that which once belonged to the lords of Trescobell. Ben learns of its tragic history: a marriage unable to be proved, rival claimants, a violent death, a fire, a family scattered... When he must give up his rented rooms to a previous booking, Ben decides on impulse to move into the undamaged section of the Trescobell mansion, taking with him as servant and companion old Zacky Martin, now just the village cobbler, but once a gentleman's gentleman, or so it is said.

Inspired by his new home, Ben settles down to his writing. However, his solitude is disturbed by a growing conviction that he is under observation - and by a series of strange noises, which seem to be coming from within or underneath the old mansion. Ben also finds himself oddly caught between two young women, one a visitor to England from South Africa with plans to be a teacher, the other a mysterious and elusive figure drawn to the mansion by moonlight; one frank and good-humoured, and a pleasant companion, the other haughty and autocratic, yet alluring; and the two of them so alike, they could be twin sisters...

On the evidence of The Secret Of Trescobell, Joseph Hocking was not a particularly strong writer; yet he published almost 100 books and in his lifetime was extremely popular, so perhaps I just caught him on an "off" day. Hocking was a Methodist minister who often wrote about his beloved Cornwall, and the love of his native soil is evident in this novel. His greatest weakness, as evidenced here, is a tendency to overuse certain words and phrases. He also has trouble making some of his protagonist's actions seem reasonable, resorting to a repeated of the phrase, Strange as it may seem---

On the other hand, Hocking does manage some suspenseful and exciting passages in his story, and some surprises in the unravelling of his mystery. I should stress that this is not a detective story, or a "mystery" in that sense, but a story of hidden motives and identities, which are progressively elucidated.

The most amusing aspect of this novel was possibly unintentional: its air of wish-fulfillment. When the story opens, Ben St Hilary has written four failed novels, yet everyone he meets has read and loves his books. His publishers drop him, and then within weeks he produces a literary masterpiece which makes himself and his new publishers a fortune. What's more, this book is praised for being "clean and wholesome", without any of the "cynically sordid" tendencies of so much modern literature. Whatever we make of the rest, that last is definitely Joseph Hocking having his say.

Not a great read, but a pleasant one.
3 vote lyzard | Jan 31, 2011 |
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On what little happenings do the issues of life rest!
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