Critical Evaluation

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Frances Parkinson Keyes was born in Virginia, the daughter of John Henry Wheeler and Louise Fuller Wheeler. She decided to be an author when she was seven years old; her mother did not approve and wished for a more conventional life for her daughter. As a child, Keyes traveled throughout Europe and became proficient in languages. At age eighteen, she married Henry Wilder Keyes, who was twenty-two years older than she was. Henry was elected governor of New Hampshire and later served three terms in the United States Senate. Frances learned a great deal about politics while living in Washington, D.C., and that knowledge is evident in her writing. What prompted her to return to her love of writing was money. Neither she nor her husband had a great fortune, and she started writing to help pay household bills. After her husband died, Keyes began to write full time. She wrote more than fifty books and is best known for her popular fiction. Her novels sold more than twenty million copies, and seven made the New York Times best-seller list, including Dinner at Antoine’s.

Most of Keyes’s novels are historical romances, but in Dinner at Antoine’s she tried something different: a murder mystery. The main plot of the novel is typical of a mystery. It unfolds chronologically and is moved forward by the search for Odile’s murderer. Keyes begins the novel with the dinner that not only introduces a number of characters but also provides information on relationships between the characters. As a mystery, the pace of the novel is slow. This slowness is due in part to a subplot involving the political situation between the United States and Central American countries that echoes actual events that followed World War II. Keyes’s knowledge of Washington, D.C. and past unethical activities to promote U.S. business interests in small Latin American countries is illustrated as Foxworth secretly works to merge his upstart Great Blue Fleet Company with the long-established Trans-Caribbean Company, his main business competitor. The plot’s movement is also slowed by Keyes’s characteristic descriptions not only of people but also of events, such as the Twelfth Night Revels. In determining the identity of the murderer, Keyes uses the “least likely person” format, which provides a final twist to the plot.

The novel has a large cast of characters; eight are introduced at the first of three dinners at Antoine’s, which is a real New Orleans restaurant. Generally, the characters are wealthy, upper-class individuals who are members of New Orleans’s “high society.” With some exceptions, the characters are somewhat stereotyped. Léonce St. Amant, the philandering husband of Odile, is a cardboard rake with such an overused “come on” line that his new love begins to rethink having...

(The entire section is 1151 words.)