Beckoning Trails was the first story Emilie Loring wrote after the death of her husband, Victor. They celebrated their fifty-fifth anniversary in December and his eighty-eighth birthday in January, before he died in February, 1947. They had always been good companions, and after her brother’s death, Victor had also been Emilie’s first reader, the one with whom she shared fledgling stories on the way to completed drafts.
“We were great companions, and Debby, in the last analysis, the good companion is what counts most in marriage.”
“Before my husband died I was able to provide professional care for him.”
Was it Victor’s idea that she write herself into her next novel? It was high time she updated the image she created of herself as the writer Melissa Barclay in Give Me One Summer:
Three dollars! It had seemed a fortune. She had sold something!
“I’m writing a novel. Don’t laugh.”
So she created another “MB” for this story–Molly Burton. “Molly B” is an internationally famous mystery-writer, confident, self-possessed. Others have as much to say about her writing as she does.
“She never has guests when the WOMAN AT WORK sign is out, till the manuscript is in the hands of the magazine editor or her publisher.”
“I agree with you that Molly B.’s technique of staggering the disclosures in her stories is the touch of a master craftsman.”
“My first novel made a slight stir.” “I wouldn’t call ten printings ‘slight.’”
“My study of the motives behind actions has helped me understand the human heart—at least, my fans believe I understand it—”
“I never talk of my plots or of what I am writing till the novel is in print.”
That last is advice that I heed, too. Stories begin one way, and then, for some reason, don’t work out the way you thought. In the earlier draft that became Beckoning Trails, the author’s secretary stabbed a judge to prevent him from marrying “Aunt Anastasia Stewart” and then died by suicide. The story took place in Virginia, but Emilie Loring brought it back to New England when she revised.
Knowing how autobiographical Beckoning Trails was, one passage especially piqued my curiosity:
Paintings which had been designed for the jackets of Molly Burton’s books lent color—and an occasional touch of gruesomeness—to the cool, gray walls. There were full-page ads, photographs of the author along the years, framed letters from three world-famous persons who had taken time from their crowded lives to tell her they had read all night to find the solution of a mystery only to discover that they had guessed wrong as to the murderer, letters that would be as well worth stealing for the signatures as some of her jewels.
I have one of those full-page ads, copies of her photographs, and have seen some of the original, dust-jacket paintings, but who were the “world-famous persons” who wrote to her? How I wish she had kept a diary, as both Debby Randall and Tim Grant’s mother did in this story! (Oooh! and what if she did?!)
The title, Beckoning Trails was a signal. Emilie Loring found life vitally interesting, filled with romance and mystery. Neither she nor Molly Burton had any intention of stopping.
“For Pete’s sake, forget that age obsession.”
“I have plots for ten more novels at least before I sign off.”
But this story is really about Debby Randall and Tim Grant who meet at Beechcroft, Molly B’s estate.
What fun. She hadn’t felt this sense of excitement when meeting a new man for years.
Debby and Tim team up to solve two mysteries: Who stole papers from Molly B’s safe at Beechcroft? And who shot and killed Judge Lander on the badminton court?
“From now on, so far as you and I are concerned, there is a suspect behind every bush, a clue at the end of every beckoning trail.”
Tim and Debby fall for each other, but there are complications.
“Does he think because he kissed me the other night I have forgotten the girl in the Pacific? I wish she were in the Pacific, deep in.”
How could he tell her or show that he loved her with the infernal gossip going the rounds that he was after Beechcroft?
For those of you making plans for our tea party on July 6th (see the invitation here), Debby provides a few more ideas–under duress, no less.
She unlocked the cupboard, produced a large sterno, a whistling teakettle, crackers, jam, and a package of paper napkins with not unseemly haste considering that she was functioning under the threat of shooting…
“I’m looking for tea balls. I have them. Fill the kettle with water while I set up this for Operations Tea Party.” She snapped down the legs of a card table. “We might as well enjoy a touch of elegance with our last meal on earth.”
She spread a cloth gay with printed nasturtiums, placed cups and saucers, silver teaspoons, sugar, crackers, jam and cookies slowly, trying to think of some way to send a smoke signal up the chimney…“
Molly B and Emilie Loring likely channeled the same muse, as Beckoning Trails is more mystery than romance–and a tangled, intriguing mystery at that. The clues are fair and excite breathless anticipation on the way to a surprising end.
8 thoughts on “The Lure of Mystery in Beckoning Trails”
This is book #27 in my re-read mission. I had forgotten how fun this book is with the mystery and all kinds of suspects, action packed, full of snappy dialogue, and frequent interaction between Deb and Tim. They are very companionable. I assume that Emilie Loring is channeling herself through Molly B. There is much discussion among characters of the process of writing and revealing clues/knowledge about the mystery at hand. This is a much more active novel than, say, High of Heart, which was my previous read last week. It’s neat to see the relationship and bond grow between Debby and Tim over the novel. It establishes a good foundation for their coming together in the end.
It just goes to show that there is much more than “formula” to her novels. Yes, there are some fundamental elements in each book, but I would call HofH a pensive novel–on the issue of one’s identity, family, culture and nationality. Further, as you’ve written elsewhere, Swift Water is an even different novel, with the very intense internal spiritual and emotional struggles of Jean Randolph. But that had lots of action and some intense, steamy scenes full of possibilities between Jean and Rev Chris. Some novels are rollicking, or have rollicking elements, that call to mind the “screwball comedies” or the mystery/action films of the same era. (eg, the midnight ride to Nogi’s to see “esteemed relative” in Gay Courage, which also has some steam between Goeffrey and Nancy–his obsession w/the base of her throat. Whoa! EL knew how to create steam with nothing more than a kiss, but an intense kiss.)
That’s a lot of big picture thinking right here. I saw you evaluate what your fave’s would be in another post. Definitely a tough decision which would change from day to day, but probably not wholesale. There are some that are just better or more memorable, etc., than others to me.
That’s enough for now, I think.
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Peggy, you are fully on target with your big picture observations! You have inspired a blog post … expect to be quoted! 😊
Excellent! I cannot wait to read what you have gleaned from my musings above. Oh, and there are some steamy scenes. I’ve made note of some of them that stand out to me…I’ve been reading with enjoyment and thinking about the body of work of EL and how her novels and characters evolved over time. I’ve been paying attention more to the plot details than I did years ago. You posts on each book and the blog are helpful in prompting my thinking as I read. When I was young I focused much on the romance. …We grow up and see more…
Looking forward to reading more from you.
Beckoning Trails was one of my favorites probably because it had a mystery, and it was still romantic! Nice post, and I always like all the pictures you include. 🙂
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Thanks. It’s a challenge to find enough photos sometimes, so thanks for mentioning it. I always wonder whether Emilie had an early, broken engagement. No evidence of it, but some of the books have that element.
Wonderful blog and thank you for sharing. I had no idea the covers were paintings, but makes sense and is very nice.
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Thank you, Vicki. Manning deV Lee painted the early cover art in oils. The Lorings still own many of them. Others, you may find in an antiques market some day, if you keep your eyes out for them. Wouldn’t that be a find?!