The Cherry Blossom Corpse

Barnard places his detective, Perry Trethowan of Scotland Yard, in the midst of a worldwide convention of romance novelists held in Norway. Accompanying his sister Cristobel, herself a novice in the genre, he expects to spend a few leisurely days relaxing in a pastoral resort and confirming his belief that “Romantic novels are written by the semi-literate for the moronic.”

He has plenty of opportunity to do the latter, as the authors of the enormously popular romances prove to be conniving, silly, pathetic, or malevolent. Amanda Fairchild, author of HEARTS IN CHERRY BLOSSOM TIME, is extravagantly histrionic, a captivating presence but an implausible writer: She cannot distinguish between an apple and a cherry blossom, and, presumably, her knowledge of the heart is equally limited. Her great rival is Lorelei Zuckerman, whose very name announces the split in her character, part enchanting siren, part mundane manipulator from New York City. The other writers include a former monk, a thoroughgoing drunk, and a jealous historian of romances, whose study HAPPY TEARS betrays as much contempt as it does admiration. Most of the conference is taken up with boring meetings (on such topics as “Whither the Gothic?”) and much drinking. The proceedings are livened up momentarily by a visit from a local newspaperwoman, whose sharp criticism of romances as a “candy-floss dream-factory” harmful to women is effectively rebutted by Amanda. For Barnard,...

(The entire section is 410 words.)