Nancy Buckingham, The Dark Summer (Ace, 1968)
[originally posted 28Mar2002]
I’ve never been quite sure what it is that defines the gothic genre, and after reading The Dark Summer, I’m even more confused. The Dark Summer (put out by Ace, better known these days for their science fiction offerings, the collectible Ace Doubles—“first in gothics!” is emblazoned across the top of this one) seems to me more a straight murder mystery with a dash of romance thrown in for good measure. No old mansions, no supernatural goings-on, no graveyards, not even a single nubile young thing being chased across a moor by an unseen assailant. There is quite a bit, in fact, more of gravy than of the grave of The Dark Summer.
Jan, who’s been living overseas for five years, comes back to England to convalesce in the care of her Aunt Frank, a crossword-puzzle constructor and quiz show host. While at her aunt’s, she meets old boyfriend Mark, and of course, the feelings she thought were long-dead rise to the surface again immediately. Unfortunately, though, Mark’s cousin has a thing for Jan as much as Mark does, and while Mark’s wife seemingly perished in a fire the year before, she turns up very much alive… until someone kills her.
Gothic tag aside, The Dark Summer is a slim, spare whodunit with an engaging cast of characters and an author who has a better eye for the tangled relationships of the adolescent world than most adult authors. It’s probably hard to find in the original paperback edition these days (it’s still in print in large print hardcover, and as an extremely expensive audiocassette, both available at Amazon), but given the price you’ll pay when stumbling across it at a used bookstore, it’s well worth picking up. Buckingham can easily hold her own with most genre mystery writers, and the books are slim enough to be a great palate-cleansing type read in between weightier tomes. Recommended for mystery lovers all around. ***