Peter Cheyney’s “Uneasy Terms” brought back those wonderful childhood summer vacation days when I was reading Agatha Christie, Peter Cheyney, Edgar Wallace, etc. sunbathing in my parents’ garden or in my room, feet up the wall for better leg circulation.
It’s interesting how a novel full of murders, dark secrets and danger lurking around every corner (page) invokes happy feelings. Actually, regardless of the circumstances one reads this novel in (forget sunny garden and leisure days), it seems to me like the novel disregards its gloomy subject and goes on in happy/adventurous tone as if dealing with some fun teenage mystery.
What I like about Cheyney is his confident tone and quick-paced story-telling without lingering on the unnecessary, but feeling it important to linger on the character’s appearance, face expression, posture and everything that might reveal their thoughts and intentions which is very interesting to read for me. Dan Brown comes the first to mind as an example of an author who might want to learn something about character building from Peter Cheyney.
What I also love about this 40’s novel is the fact that it tries so hard to be modern, and it probably was modern in those times; to me it is incredibly charming and endearing to follow detective Callaghan, the toughest guy around who addresses women with “hey, doll” (I assume something like that comes out of his mouth in the original English version – since I read this in the Serbian translation), drinks all the time and beats up everyone who stand in his way.
“Uneasy terms” opens with a dark, gloomy night in a wealthy family mansion where three pretty sisters are angered by their guardian and stepfather, colonel Jervis Stenhurst who objects to their “lewd” behavior with suspicious young men from some nearby nightclub. Guess who’s gonna be found murdered soon? Yes, after trying to reach Slim Callaghan and failing (someone did a good job of preventing that from happening), colonel Jervis is found dead holding a gun and a handkerchief with his oldest stepdaughter’s initials on it.
We have five suspects, or at least that’s how I read it: the oldest stepdaughter Viola – of incredible fragile beauty, serious and a little sad; Patricia – wild dark-haired beauty who knows how to live and have fun, and Coreen – a spoiled brat who loves borrowing her older sister’s provocative dresses and dreams of becoming either a Hollywood diva or a private eye’s most devoted little helper. The other two suspects are the girls’ aunt who lives with them, and a lawyer who helped write the girls’ mother’s will, making him, the aunt and colonel their three guardians.
“Uneasy terms” is a wonderful dive into the mystery world that makes you feel relaxed and refreshed when you come out.
I’m not sure if my fascination with old detective novels and movies comes only from their “oldness” (the way the main character in Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” is fascinated by the 1920’s Paris of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Picasso and Dali), or if they really possess that now almost gone quality of being created by a skilled, thoughtful maker.
In any case, “Uneasy terms” is a quick read that I very much recommend.