We find ourselves in a peculiar position . . . Knowing nothing of one another, we have sought the solitude of Baldpate Inn at almost the same moment. Why?
A writer seeks solitude in a deserted mountaintop hotel in the winter months in order to find inspiration for his greatest novel yet. But soon enough more and more people begin to arrive, each with a story more bizarre and unbelievable than the last: a tailor seeking solace for abroken heart, an actress seeking to disappear for a few days in order to get her name into the papers, a university professor seeking to flee negative press over misogynistic remarks and more. And then there’s that mysterious other person, glimpsed only occasionally in the shadows or heard walking about on the upper floors. The author believed himself to be the only person with access to Baldpate Inn; but it turns out there are seven keys to Baldpate.
Earl Derr Biggers is a forgotten author to the degree that even this work is mostly remembered, to the degree that it is remembered at all, as a play that another author wrote based on this novel. If Derr Biggers has a claim to “fame” it’s the creation of Charlie Chan and that character has fallen out of favor, to say the least, in recent years, for the obvious reasons.
This book isn’t a horror novel at all. It’s a kind of mystery/adventure, of the kind where shadowy figures leap out of the darkness and struggle mightily with the hero, gunshots ring out in the night, no one seems to know what exactly is in the hotel safe and people are forever spying on other people. So why is it here? Well, it’s kind of obvious. I mean, it’s about a writer seeking inspiration, a deserted hotel, an isolated location, the winter months . . . it’s the damned Shining is what it is. And with its tale of a motley cast of characters, all hiding something, while trapped in this location, it kind of prefigures Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, as well as, by extension, most slasher movies. So, I suppose it’s here because it’s seen as having a significant influence on the horror genre.
And, anyway, I really didn’t like this book at all. It’s very repetitive and the style is very amateurish. There’s really no tension; all anyone ever seems to do is talk and the book goes on almost four-hundred pages, far too long for the ridiculously thin plot. And once all the mystery is revealed, it’s just incredibly cheesy, all under-cover agents and mobsters and such. And, of course, there’s an unbearably corny romance subplot between our hero, the writer, and the “actress.” And it doesn’t even have the visceral thrills of a slasher film; despite all the strange people and secrets packing Baldpate, not a single person ever dies. I mean, Good God. What is the point? Anyway, I give this one a recommended against. It’s not at all worth your time.
Horror? Not at all, really. Footsteps heard upstairs and a shadowy figure just aren’t enough to even give this book of doldrums a modicum of suspense, much less horror. Not even a single death. I don’t think anyone’s ever even scared.
Okay, next time, we’re going to do the book I said I was going to do this time. Got my wires crossed a bit. Next time, it’s The Lodger by Marie Adelaide Belloc Lowndes.