Saturday, August 9, 2008

Cordelia Frances Biddle's "Deception's Daughter"

Cordelia Frances Biddle co-wrote Murder at San Simeon with Patricia Hearst and writes the popular Nero Blanc crossword puzzle mysteries with her husband, Steve Zettler. The Conjurer is the first novel in the Martha Beale mystery series.

She applied “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Deception's Daughter, the second novel in the Martha Beale series, and reported the following:
Deception’s Daughter, aptly, deals with deceptions on many levels. A young lady of means goes missing; ransom notes are delivered to her anxious parents - although there’s a question of authenticity. A wife lies to her husband regarding a robbery in their home. Martha Beale’s ward (Ella from The Conjurer) has her own motives for concealing her actions - as well as a questionable friendship - from her adoptive parent. A son deceives and betrays his father. These events are at the dark heart of the novel.

Page 99 examines the act of deceiving from a more discreet perspective. The hugely popular Traveling Diorama of Monsieur Moissenet of Paris has just opened in Philadelphia. (The year in which the novel is set is 1842.) Sell-out crowds wait in long lines in order to glimpse the imported wonder: a giant circular painting depicting a hilltop view of the French capital.

Ascending into the recreated shade of a three-dimensional teahouse, viewers gaze down at what appears to be the river Seine glistening in the distance while nearer streets meander along the hillside, full of the city’s busy life. The sense of reality and illusion is further confounded by genuine articles artfully arrayed against the pictorial backdrop.

Rereading the page in order to test Ford Madox Ford's statement that on page 99 “the whole [novel] will be revealed to you," I was struck by how valid his words remain and how prescient this small scene is.

When Ella visits the spectacle with Martha, she feels disappointed and cheated by what she denounces as a “trick.” Martha attempts to explain that the display should be interpreted as “fantasy” rather than treachery, but the truth is that the panorama was created in order to deceive.

A supposedly pleasurable outing shared by mother and adopted daughter becomes, instead, a lesson in duplicity.
Read the first chapter from Deception's Daughter, and learn more about the book and author at Cordelia Frances Biddle's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Conjurer.

--Marshal Zeringue