Friday, December 13, 2019

Mysterious Miss Morrisot by Valentine Williams (1930)

Also published as Mannequin

Valentine Williams

About the author: Valentine Williams (1883–1946) was an English journalist and writer of popular fiction. Williams was awarded the Military Cross as a soldier and wrote two autobiographical books about his war-time experiences. In the aftermath of war, he travelled widely as a reporter.  It was during this period that he began writing thrillers and around 1926 he gave up his post at the Daily Mail to pursue a full-time career as an author. (Wikipedia)

Major characters:
  • Miss Jacqueline "Jack" Morrisot, executive for The Great Victor
  • The Great Victor, famous clothing designer
  • Oliver Royce, laid-off journalist, our protagonist
  • Mousie Hersent, a past-her-prime high-mileage widow
  • Don Luis "Neque" Ribeira, a wealthy Argentine
  • Doña Isabella, Ribeira claims she is his sister
  • Esteban Pinedo, Doña Isabella's husband
  • Harvey Nolan, wealthy American idler
  • Harriet Bronstein
  • Henri Laurent, murderer
  • Inspector Dufour
Locale: Cannes and Paris, France

Synopsis: As the story opens, we learn that Jacqueline "Jack" Morrisot, as a child, witnessed her mother's murder by Henri Laurent, who is believed to have drowned shortly afterwards. The whereabouts of Jacqueline's father is not known, the only clue a letter she has signed "Vin."

Fast forward many years. Jacqueline is an executive assistant to famous dress designer 'The Great Victor'. Oliver Royce, our protagonist, loses his journalist job in a buyout; takes his savings to rub elbows with the wealthy at Cannes. He meets and becomes fascinated with Jacqueline.

Quickly running out of savings, Oliver grudgingly accepts lodging with wealthy widow Mousie Hersent, and reluctantly takes the role of a gigolo - escorting her to society events. Jacqueline finds out and insults Mousie Hersent, which results in her (Jacqueline) losing her job. Oliver quits the gigolo gig in disgust.

Jacqueline is approached by wealthy Argentine Don Luis "Neque" Ribeira, who offers her a position as traveling companion to himself and his sister, Doña Isabella; and they drop from sight. Meanwhile, Oliver finds work as a steward aboard the luxury yacht of bored-stiff idler Harvey Nolan. Oliver and Harvey become friends in spite of their employer/servant relationship; with Harvey providing the resources for Oliver to find Jacqueline.


This is a thriller, with two mysteries woven in: Is murderer Henri Laurent still alive, and where is he? And where is Jacqueline's father?

I was immediately struck by deja vu with the writer-gigolo theme. The 1950 film Sunset Boulevard casts the identical triangle of lead roles:
  • Down-on-his-luck writer turned gigolo: Oliver Royce (Sunset Boulevard's Joe Gillis)
  • Wealthy widow: Mrs. Hersent (Sunset Boulevard's Norma Desmond)
  • Rebuffed love interest: Jacqueline Morrisot (Sunset Boulevard's Betty Schaefer)
It gets a bit dizzy with the characters constantly zooming between Paris and Cannes. Once they get to Mousie Hersent's Paris home, Les Charmettes, the action picks up and becomes an exciting thriller as the parties all converge.

Inspector Dufour has a minor role, primarily at the cleanup.

Readers who enjoy the knight-errant stories of Leslie Charteris' The Saint will enjoy this book, as it moves from the glittery gaming tables of Cannes to a damsel-rescue in Paris. 

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