Monday, 7 June 1999

Elizabeth Peters: Borrower of the Night (1973)

Edition: Coronet, 1976
Review number: 267

One of Elizabeth Peters' earliest novels (the first of the Vicky Bliss series), Borrower of the Night does not quite have as well developed a sense of satire as many of her later books. It is more like the romances of a writer like Victoria Holt than a spoof of the genre.

Some elements of the romance genre are made fun of. The character of Vicky Bliss is made deliberately too good to be true: not only does she fit into an accepted notion of feminine beauty (she describes herself as looking like a Playboy centerfold, though she would prefer to be a petite brunette), but she is an accomplished scholar, with a doctorate in history. Her biggest problem is trying to persuade people that being a buxom blonde doesn't automatically make her dumb.

She takes on a challenge (to prove her intellectual superiority) to find a missing altarpiece by the late-Gothic German sculptor Riederschmeier. It is probably hidden in a sinister castle, which comes complete with the stereotypical details of such fiction (secret passages, apparently ghostly apparitions, a rightful heiress kept from enjoying her property by a wicked relative).

As always with Elizabeth Peters, Borrowers of the Night is fun without taxing the mind to the smallest degree. (I find they make ideal reading for when I'm not well.) She just hadn't yet committed herself completely to the parody mode, the obvious choice for someone too intelligent to take this sort of fiction seriously herself, but who clearly also enjoys the genre.

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