IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT.
No, really, it was. That’s the set-up for White’s novel, famously made – with some alterations – into The Spiral Staircase in 1946. The film has, it seems, driven many to seek out the novel to sup at the story’s source, though I’m coming at it from the position of a heathen non-watcher, which means I’m likely not as irritated by the material changes which some argue made the film.
Set in a stately home – well, a home fancy enough to have servants, at least – Some Must Watch is the story about a series of murders coming closer and closer to home. It’s the story of a servant, Helen, a redhead with a surplus of pluck. She’s not someone who enjoys servitude, and the house in which she serves is full of the usual odd bods that populate novels of this type: preoccupied professors, weirdly secluded relatives of advanced age, hard-working staffers and trouble-in-paradise lovers.
The cast is enough to ensure there’s always some tension or special affection directed towards Helen, and it’s surprising how well written and foregrounded – particularly given the date of publication – the relationships between women are in this work. Blokes remain much more of an outline, here, and it’s quite refreshing.
This novel is a standard 1930s mystery – no more, no less. It’s the sort of thing most either love or hate, though I was a bit more ‘eh’ about the whole proceeding. It is certainly effective at creating an atmosphere of dread, though this is sometimes undone by the dated caricatures that stand in for some of the characters.
The Victorian mansion and remote countryside in which the story unfurls offer a much more Gothic flavour than I would have expected from a whodunnit, and though I found the revelation of who actually did do it to be a little predictable, I enjoyed reading White’s work. It’s satisfying – no more and no less – but it’s the kind of satisfaction that afternoons with tea and bickies sometimes demand.