” She looked up at Jamaica Inn, sinister and grey in the approaching dusk, the windows barred; she thought of the horrors the house had witnessed, the secrets now embedded in its walls, side by side with the outer old memories of feasting and firelight and laughter before her uncle cast his shadow upon it . . . ” [13:227]
Mary Yellan is brought up on a farm in Helford. After her mother dies, she is forced to go and live with her aunt Patience, the wife of the keeper of Jamaica Inn, Joss Merlyn. Upon arrival, Mary is appalled by the sight of Patience, who has transformed from the beautiful woman in her memory to a nervy, shattered creature. The miserable woman living under the thumb of Joss, whom Mary thinks in incarnation of evil, does not dare to breathe the evil things that have taken place in Jamaica Inn. Locals have steered clear of the place, leaving it to stink of neglect.
For answer came sickness, and poverty, and death. She was alone now, caught in a mesh of brutality and crime, living beneath a roof she loathed, amongst people she despised; and she was walking out across a barren, friendless moor to meet a horse thief and a murderer of men. [9:141]
Against her wills, Mary warms up to the brother of the inn master, Jem Merlyn, who stands for everything that she fears, hates, and despises. Despite his being a thief, Mary believes that he has never committed murder, nor is he in complicity with his brother. In this backdrop of gothic romance spun a story of a group of murderous wreckers who run ships aground, kill the sailors and steal their loot. Unbefit to the spooky mood that builds up during the first half of the book, Jamaica Inn is not creepy at all. The whodunit surprise at the end doesn’t live up to all the effort of suspense du Maurier has ramped up. Compared to Rebecca, she falthers in her effort to prolong the suspense. The mystery of Jamaica Inn and the crimes it hides are just too simplistic.
302 pp. Mass paperback. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]