Before I read Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White I would probably never have picked up this book even though it was only a dollar at Book for America. Then again I would have never picked up The Woman in White either. Most times I have very strong feelings about the kind of books that I think I like. This usually works in my favor as I end up not wasting time on books that I really don’t enjoy. But occasionally I am persuaded that I really should give a particular book or author a chance. It has happened over the years with books like A Prayer for Owen Meany (Irving), The Andromeda Strain (Crichton), Deliverance (Dickey), and thanks to the evangelism of Simon at Savidge Reads, The Woman in White. In all of these cases, I managed to drop my tendency toward obstinacy just long enough to discover some really great reads.
Like The Woman in White, Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret is a sensation novel where the normal strictures of Victorian social mores are used to frame a plot full of scandalous, sensational, comings and goings. Imagine all the proper, detailed trappings of a Trollope, but replace a purloined cheque with a bigamous, murderous, lying, mad woman and you start to get the drift of Lady Audley.
Because there is so much detailed plot in most sensation novels it is somewhat useless to try and convey the plot in a review. One could probably outline these plots very easily, filling up a page with a bulleted list of succinct plot points but that would remove all the fun of letters, messengers, and secret compartments; to-ing and fro-ing from town to town, train station to station; and of course interviewing all manner of characters who hold some little piece of a massive, mysterious, puzzle.
Lady Audley’s Secret is the kind of mystery where you know pretty early on the truth behind the mystery–at least at a broad level. But you read along wondering by what means it is all going to unravel and be revealed. And many little surprises pop up along the way that keep you on your toes.
My third Sensation novel, I would put Lady Audley’s Secret behind The Woman in White, but ahead of Collins’ The Dead Secret.