Cover art by Edward Gorey.
I thought about doing W for Nero Wolfe, but I'd already done N is for Nero Wolfe - wouldn't want to repeat myself - if I can help it. The Crime Fiction Alphabet 2011 is a weekly meme hosted by Kerrie Smith at her blog, MYSTERIES IN PARADISE.
THE WOLVES OF WILLOUGHBY CHASE is my entry for the Letter W.
Joan Aiken (1924 - 2004) a daughter of poet and novelist Conrad Aiken, was an amazingly prolific writer of the sort you hardly see anymore. All you need do is look at her publication history on her fantastic fiction page and you will be wowed. In this case, W could also stand for Wow.
THE WOLVES OF WILLOUGHBY CHASE (1963) is the first book in The Wolf Chronicles, a series of books for slightly older children or YA as they're called today. The two I've read (WOLVES OF WILLOUGHBY CHASE and MIDWINTER NIGHTINGALE) were just as much fun for me to read as they must have been for kids over the years. Maybe more, because I have an appreciation of the type of Victorian story telling that Aiken was parodying. Long before Lemony Snicket showed up on the scene with his Series of Unfortunate Events, there was Joan Aiken doing it earlier and doing it very well indeed.
Aiken was not afraid to fill her tales with good doses of doom and gloom - just enough to place her young protagonists in dire peril - living in an England where dark doings (and bands of roving wolves) were commonplace and parents were often separated from their children by Unhappy Circumstance.
In THE WOLVES OF WILLOUGHBY CHASE, we have the story of Bonnie and her cousin Sylvia. Both girls have been left in the care of the cruel governess, Miss Slighcarp, when Bonnie's parents go on a long sea voyage. Uh-oh.
When news comes of the suspicious sinking of the parental ship - well you knew that was coming -Miss Slighcarp takes over the house - the servants are dismissed and the furniture sold. Dressed in rags, the two young girls are turned out - sent to a prison-like orphanage. What are Bonne and Sylvia to do?
Luckily, they are plucky types and with the help of Simon the goose boy and his flock, the girls escape and then must look to find a way to wrest their family home, Willoughby Chase, back from the evil clutches of Miss Slighcarp.
I wish I'd read more of Joan Aiken's work (Oh well, there's always tomorrow.) - though it seems to me that I read several of her novels written for adults once upon a time. Oh, if only I'd begun keeping track of books read over the years.
I own the hardcover of THE WOLVES OF WILLOUGHBY CHASE which has some mighty fine interior illustrations by Pat Marriott. Another wish: I wish the dustjacket were in better shape.
The other Joan Aiken YA book I've read and loved.