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The Strange Files of Fremont Jones
By Dianne Day
Doubleday 1995/Bantam paperback 1996
Reviewed by J. Ashley (2/99)
I always read series out of order, and having read and reviewed The
Bohemian Murders, I thought I'd go back and start at the beginning. This
book is the first in the Fremont Jones series and won the Macavity Award
for best first novel.
The book introduces Fremont Jones, a young woman in turn-of-the-century San
Francisco, who leaves behind her upper-class life in Boston to sell her
typing services in the City by the Bay.
Soon after opening her business, Fremont has several interesting clients,
Justin Cameron, a young, handsome lawyer; Edgar Allan Partridge, writer of
strange, gothic tales; and a stately old Chinese man name Li Wong who wants
an odd letter typed. Throw in Michael Archer, her boarding house neighbor,
who, the landlady whispers, was once a spy.
Fremont becomes intrigued with Partridge's bizarre stories, and starts to
investigate if the stories are true, only to turn up more mysteries. Then
the Chinese gentleman is murdered, and Michael Archer tells her he was once
the head of a powerful Tong. Then Fremont's office is burglarized and Li
Wong's family takes her to their home and demands to know what happened to
the letter. Fremont, falling in love with Justin in the middle of all
this, also must contend with new and strange feelings.
Fremont is likeable, sensible, and determined, and makes this book worth reading. Dianne Day's writing, as in her other books, is fluid, and the inclusion of Fremont's typing projects lends another level of interest.
Strangely, I found this book to be a mixture of the refreshingly original
and the annoyingly cliche. Why, oh why, when sleuths are handed A Vital
Clue, in the form of a letter, diary, computer disk, what-have-you, does
their insatiable curiosity suddenly disappear, and they refuse to read said
letter and/or carelessly lose it? The Vital Clue that would have explained
all had they but taken the time . . .
Also, as in The Bohemian Murders, I found the ending unsatisfactory.
Fremont bases her conclusion on a chance (very slim chance) discovery and a
leap of logic. We aren't led up to the solution; it's thrust upon us.
Fortunately for Fremont, she guessed right (which is confirmed by the
aforementioned Vital Clue). I was also not satisfied with her findings
about Partridge's stories. That part seemed tacked on and unconnected with
the beginning of the book.
However, I liked the story all the way up to the last few chapters! Dianne
Day writes wonderful characters, and if a few were a bit stock, the others
more than made up for it. The second novel in this series is Fire and Fog;
the third, The Bohemian Murders; and the fourth, just out, Emperor Norton's
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