Friday, October 18, 2019

The Marilyn Ross Codex #2: Victoria Winters


Welcome back, creepies, to the Alternate Collinsport of The Marilyn Ross Codex! Today we delve into the sophomore installment of this Earth-2 like canon, Victoria Winters. Though I have to say, these Ross books haven’t really wowed me just yet (like my beloved Big Finishverse has), but Victoria Winters is a marked improvement over the slightly stodgy introduction volume.

For one I feel like this second installment makes much better use of the expanded cast, mixing them all up in a plot involving a mysterious invalid, a hot older ex of Elizabeth Stoddard’s, and a possible serial killer with a ghoulish calling card. For another, it’s pretty damn weird! While the opening book was more about establishing the prose-only cast and laying out the groundwork of “Collins House”, Victoria Winters just GETS to it, throwing out the introductions in the first few pages and then just having a blast throughout eleven breezy chapters. All read lovingly and animatedly by Maggie Evans herself Kathryn Leigh Scott. But enough of my yammering, let’s get into it, yes?

So right at the top, Ross does a bit of housecleaning and I feel like this volume is all the stronger for it. Picking up a thread from the first novel, Ross reveals that Ernest Collins, handsome concert violinist and one of many of Victoria’s potential suitors, is back in New York, having been pressured back out of Earth-2 Collinsport due to townies thinking he killed his first wife Elaine, and subsequent lover Stella Hastings (a spectre that hangs over this whole novel). Carolyn and crystal ball enthusiast David are also shuffled out of the action this novel, having decided to take an extended Summer holiday away from Collinsport.

But Victoria Winters doesn’t suffer for their loss. Instead, Ross replaces them almost instantly, building out this novel’s main action around new characters Henry Francis, former beau of Elizabeth and “successful” stock broker, and his daughters, invalid Dorothy and ginger sex pot Rachel. The Francis family are in the market for new digs, so naturally Elizabeth offers to let them stay in a vacant “Collins House” apartment while Dorothy waits to be examined by a new litany of specialists. As soon as the Francis family settles in however, straaaaange goings-on start to stalk the great House. Specifically the ghost of Stella Hastings and someone with a real hard-on for trying to strangle Victoria.

So, not only do we have the apparent tried-and-true hook of “newcomers arrive in Collinsport, weird stuff follows”, but Ross’ prose here makes a pretty weighty meal of it. Mainly due to his (or maybe their? Pronouns are weird in regards to pen names) commitment to getting the whole of the cast in on the action. While Victoria is still very much the driving force of this action, characters like her friend and spitting image Nora Grant, her hot cousin and Collins family lawyer Will Grant, and even the irascible Burke Devlin all get meaty turns at trying to suss out the mystery of the Francis family and who exactly could be the “Silk Stocking Murderer”.

And better still, the whole affair takes some truly weird and Gothy turns. I’m talking people not saying who they really are, an attempted murder on Roger’s boat (oh yeah Roger has a boat now, its hilarious), and a haughty, also hot artist named Paul Caine who keeps skulking around Collins House. Tempering that weirdness is the renewed focus on soapy aspects of Dark Shadows, in particular the multi-angled love triangle Miss Winters finds herself in. Though Ernest is still in New York, his love still extends outward thanks to pointedly written letters promising to put a ring on it upon his return. Though Vicky isn’t just sitting by the window pining. No, no, dear readers because she starts to get the moves put on her by both Will (who I am into) and Paul (who I am NOT into). It gives the whole thing a nice bit of romance and sexual tension that I can always appreciate.

BUT, as much I liked this one, this range is still far from perfect. I still think the lack of production value really hurt these audiobooks. Now, I’m not saying that we need like a full range of sound effects and the like. But maybe just a BIT more of Robert Cobert music outside of the opening and closing? If only just to accentuate Scott’s wonderful reading cadence, which is even better here as she gets to lean into her innate charm and warmth.

That nitpick aside however, Victoria Winters is, I feel, is a fantastic follow up to the opening novel. One that displays a better handle on the alternate cast members and threads the needle between the soapy and pulpy tone of the TV series. The opening novel read like a fun anomaly, but Victoria Winters reads like a real-deal universe starter. One that can handedly sustain itself, while standing just slightly apart from its source material.

NEXT TIME! Strangers At Collins House from 1967! Apparently we get some of that sweet, sweet 1910’s action with this one. Until then, be seeing you.

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