Thursday, June 23, 2011

Crime Fiction Alphabet - Letter W is for: The WOLVES OF WILLOUGHBY CHASE by Joan Aiken

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.


  1. I have a copy of WOWC, but - surprise! - have never read it. The curse of book collecting. I think this is part of a series. I found a copy of NIGHT-BIRD TO NANTUCKET by Joan Aiken and it says it's part three and lists the other two you talk about here. I also read somewhere that these books are alternative history fiction. Something to do with the British monarchy having taken over America or some other monarchy taken over Europe? My mind is a-swimming and the memory is failing (there's always Google, but I'm too tired). You don't mention that aspect. Maybe I'm just confusing it with some other book. I coudl swear it was these YA books by Aiken. (BTW - daughter of Conrad Aiken, poet and author of the haunting story "Silent Snow, Secret Snow.")

  2. John: The 'curse' of book collecting, indeed. :)

    I did mention in my post that Joan is the daughter of Conrad Aiken, by the way. If I'm not mistaken there's another Aiken who is also a writer of, I think, romantic suspense. Not sure, though.

    I don't remember that aspect you mention (alternate universe yes, England taking over America, no) because I only ever read two of the books and this is not mentioned in either of the two I read. Not that I remember, anyway.

    I stumbled into this series originally when someone gave me an arc of MIDWINTER NIGHTINGALE which I actually loved more than WOWC.

  3. Joan Aiken herself is that author of romantic suspense/gothics that you're thinking of, Yvette.

    I never quite dug into the WOLVES series, but I loved her short fiction, and THE GREEN FLASH was one of my nostalgic FFBs a year or so back.

  4. Did she write them as Joan Aiken Hodge? That's the name I seem to remember. Oh, it's all a hazy fog. Ha!

    THE GREEN FLASH sounds intriguing.

    Can you send me a link to your review?

  5. Did she write them as Joan Aiken Hodge? That's the name I seem to remember. Oh, it's all a hazy fog. Ha!

    THE GREEN FLASH sounds intriguing.

    Can you send me a link to your review?


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