Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Islands of the Gulf Volume One

ISBN  9780986636912

Part of Series:  Yes  The Herbert West Trilogy.

Author:  AudreyDriscoll
Available at:  Smashwords 

Price:  $2.99 

Number of words (approximately):  160 468

Star Rating (of five):  4

Summary:  A continuation of the Herbert West Trilogy, this book tells of the escape from Arkham, the town where it all started, and progresses through half the world, with Herbert West, renaqmed Francis Deter, using his medical skills.  The story is told, as in the first book, in the first person by close friends.


- Suddenly I thought of something. “Francis. Rupert – Rupert Winfield, you know – is doing some sort of investigation into your background.”

Again that stillness, a willed calm, like that of a creature ready to spring, but who waits until action is absolutely necessary. “Oh? How do you know that?”

“Because he told me some things after the inquest. He said there’s no record of your ever having attended the college you said you’d gotten your degrees from. Or that you ever practiced as a physician in Massachusetts. He doesn’t like you, he never has. And I have a confession. Rupert’s not the only one to have been curious about you. When you first came to Bellefleur, I assumed you were a widower. That you had lost your wife and son through some great misfortune.”

I couldn't stop myself. Now that he had revealed his secrets to me, I could ask him things I had kept quiet for years. “But there was a death in 1923, of someone close to you – your friend and colleague, Dr.Herbert West.”

His glance flicked my face like a thrown knife. I had never before seen such coldness in his eyes. But his voice was, if anything, softer than before.

“What do you know of Herbert West?” he asked.

I realized, quite suddenly, that I did not know this man. He was a stranger. The mourning widower who had turned himself into a credible facsimile of a country doctor, the man who had been my friend, was gone. In his place was this other creature, this exotic who called himself Julian’s lover. On the waters of the Gulf, he had revealed to me secrets wrapped in secrets, with hints of other secrets behind them. Secrets and lies? For he had lied to us, or at least deceived us, for years. And now I was alone with him on this boat, with no one nearby. Wanting to reciprocate his confidences, I had revealed to him that I had delved into the past he guarded so carefully.

When I had made my admission, it was to the Francis Dexter whose reactions I had grown to know. But this man? While I had been minding the helm, keeping my eyes on the compass and masthead pennant and the distant horizon, he had changed, and I found myself sailing with a panther or a bird of prey. As he stared at me in the bright light of midday, with his question hanging between us, I saw the bones of his skull, the points of his cheekbones sharp beneath golden-brown skin marked with lines of laughter and care. It wasn’t only Julian, I realized with absurd compassion, who had grown thinner in these troubled months. Here was one who was able at will to whet himself like a blade. I did not know what form his anger might take, or fear, or even love. But I was about to find out.

“I know almost nothing about Herbert West,” I said. “I should have told you all this long ago. When you went away with Julian, that first time, Captain B. asked me to find a magazine he’d lent you, so I went over to your house and looked for it. While I was there I saw a book of Edgar Allan Poe’s stories on one of your shelves. I’ve always liked his writing. And inside it I found – ”

“Some photographs. I know. But what did they tell you about Herbert West?”

“I almost recognized the woman, Eleonora Desanges. There was a date on her picture. Later I went to the Public Library in town and found some newspaper stories about how her career was saved by Dr. Herbert West of Arkham, Massachusetts. I thought I’d heard you mention that place, so I assumed you and Dr. West must have been colleagues and friends. I also found his obituary in the New York Times, and a story about his death in the Boston paper. I wondered if that might have been the reason you gave up your career and decided to travel, until you came here. That’s all.”

“I see.” The panther was gone. His face had relaxed into its familiar lineaments. “Well, you were right. The death of Herbert West affected me significantly.”

“Was that him, in the third picture? The one with the car?”


“Why didn’t you tell us you were in the Canadian Army? That photograph of you in uniform made it quite clear.”

“I didn’t actually say I wasn’t, did I? You assumed I’d been in the American forces, and I didn’t contradict you. As for the reason…” He looked into the distance yet again. “Only because it's hard, sometimes, to tell the whole truth about oneself. One truth leads to another, and before one knows it, one is stripped bare. Sometimes one needs an insulating layer of ambiguity. Especially we inverts.”

He turned back to me. “I hope you won’t mention any of this to Captain Bellgarde. He wouldn’t take kindly to discovering that he has been harbouring a degenerate on his island. And he wouldn’t be the only one. If it became common knowledge I would have to leave.”

“No, Francis. We all need you here, especially the Captain. Of course I won’t say anything.”

“All right, Margaret.” He smiled, but with an effort. “I think we’ve had enough serious talk for now, don’t you? The rest will keep for a later time, I promise you. Now, what about that picnic basket?”

“Sally insisted I take it. She had her cook make it up.”

“Very thoughtful of her. Suppose we investigate its contents.”

I didn’t think I’d be able to eat, but I was happy for a diversion. The contents of the basket included a great many dainty little sandwiches, some exquisite baked delicacies, apples and plums from Sally’s garden and, rather to my amusement, a bottle of champagne. I found that I had an appetite after all, and at length I ventured to ask another question.

“Francis, it seems that my husband, Richard, met Dr. West once when they were both on leave in London. He mentioned it in a letter to me a few months before he was killed. Dr. West was with some other medical officers. Were you one of them? Do you remember?”

“I don’t recall the occasion. West and I were both in the C.A.M.C., but we weren’t stationed together. He was at one of the General Hospitals, while I was closer to the front, at Casualty Clearing Stations and the like. St. Eloi, Doullens, places like those.”

“Apparently Richard and Dr. West had quite an interesting conversation. About life and death. Especially death. Richard said he had some rather novel ideas. But they were both in an inebriated state, I gather, so…”

“Very likely. Both the inebriation and the talk of death. Herbert was interested in death. Morbidly so, you might say.” He laughed, rather mirthlessly, I thought. “He was never the same after the War. Speaking of inebriation, I suggest we broach that bottle your friend so considerately included.”

He shot the cork over the side and poured the effervescent wine into glasses also supplied by Sally. Growing a little reckless after the first glass, we drank toasts – to Julian, to the Flying Star, to Richard, to Herbert West. Not long after this, and with the first of the islands drawing nearer off our starboard bow, Francis began to sing. Softly, as though to himself, he sang an old folk ballad about a false love and a deep-laden ship.

“Julian loved that song,” he said when he finished, not looking at me. “We’d sing it together at the end of a day’s sailing, somewhere in the back of beyond.”

His hair was ruffled, his cheeks touched with colour from the champagne and the long day of sun and wind. His face, though peaceful now, was stamped with sorrow, which I did not think would ever quite leave him. It would be present always in the shape of his mouth, even when he smiled, and in a certain pinched look about the eyes. I thought about the words of the song, the longing and sorrow they expressed, and how strangely appropriate they were, given his self-accusation of betrayal. I felt tired and a little muddled by the wine, but we were in home waters now and soon would be entering Millie Bay.

Francis turned to me. “Thank you for sailing with me, Margaret,” he said, with a formality that did not seem quite out of place.

“Thank you for asking me. I was honoured.” But I had to break the solemnity. “Do you plan to keep on sailing?” I asked. “Will you keep the Star?” -

Reviewer’s Comments:

Structure:  The book is well-structured, as we have come to expect from Audrey Driscoll.  It is easy to read, with no disturbances.

Content:  The story continues, with Herbert West taking a new identity to escape from Arkham.  His travels take him to different parts of the world, to meet different and interesting people.  The descriptions and the flow of the plot are smooth and enticing, the use of the language delightful.

Reviewer’s Comments:  The books that Audrey Driscoll crafts need no plot – they are excellent reading simply for the wonderful flow of her words, and the use of the language in which she is so skilled.  The storyline adds to the enjoyment, with considerable imagination and a constant development, wrapping the reader into the lives of the characters.  This book is a worthy successor to Audrey’s earlier book, ‘The Friendship of Mortals’.
Karin B


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