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The Lodger - Marie Belloc Lowndes

”’Do you think to escape the consequences of your hideous treachery. I trusted you, Mrs. Bunting, and you betrayed me! But I am protected by a higher power, for I still have much to do.’ Then, his voice sinking to a whisper, he hissed out ‘Your end will be bitter as wormwood and sharp as a two-edged sword. Your feet shall go down to death, and your steps take hold on hell.’”

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Mr. and Mrs. Bunting are on the verge of tightening their belts further than they have ever been tightened before when a knock comes at the door. It is a man, nay a gentleman, looking for lodging. It has all the nuances of a higher power providing a timely intervention. 

He has a pile of gold sovereigns and wants to pay for his lodging a month in advance. His is name is Sleuth, but generally he is thought of and referred to by the Buntings as The Lodger. 

”As she walked down the stairs, the winter sun, a scarlet ball bringing in the smoky sky, glinted in on Mr. Sleuth’s landlady, and threw blood-red gleams, or so it seemed to her, on to the piece of gold she was holding in her hand.”

Mr. and Mrs. Bunting are both from domestic service and had retired from service to purchase this house in London and rent out lodging. When lodgers aren’t appearing as regular as they hoped Mr. Bunting makes himself available as extra help for birthday parties etc. Even those opportunities have been too few to keep them solvent. The Lodger has given them at least temporary respite from the necessity of giving up their dream and going back into domestic service. 

A lady, well not a gentle lady, but a woman of ill repute has been found slashed to death. Mr. Bunting had been denying himself the newspaper, but with this new windfall he can devour them once again giving him much missed edification and exhilaration bordering on arousal. 

More women are found dead, horribly disfigured, and the city trembles. Fear etches words into every conversation. 

The Lodger borrows a Bible. He reads this Bible out loud, but he is not reading passages that would offer comfort. His voice rings out with vengeance. 

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The Lodger is...well...strange.

He nearly goes into hysterics every time there is a knock at the door. 

He stays in all day muttering over his Bible and only goes out at night. 

The fascinating part of the book for me was that Mr. Bunting and Mrs. Bunting each were gathering droplets of information about their lodger that they were afraid to share with the other. They had been so close to disaster they were unwilling to give up the very providence that kept them from the brink of ruination. 

”She wondered at her temerity, her--her hypocrisy, and that moment, those few words, marked an epoch in Ellen Bunting’s life. It was the first time she had told a bold and deliberate lie. She was one of those women--there are many, many such--to whom there is a whole world of difference between the suppression of the truth and the utterance of an untruth.”

The press begins to call the killer THE AVENGER.

As a mound of circumstantial evidence begins to accumulate in the minds of the Buntings each new revelation winds the winch increasing the tension with every turning of a page. 

Alfred Hitchcock made a silent film about the The Lodger. It is a 1927 silent film and I’ve only seen bits of it, but I was struck by the expressions of horror that the director was able to achieve in his actors. 
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Four more movies based on Marie Belloc Lowndes’s book were made in 1932, 1944, 1953, and 2009. Lowndes is the sister of the prolific and celebrated writer Hilaire Belloc. Like her brother she was also prolific publishing several books a year.The Lodger is considered her masterpiece and obviously the film industry agrees. 

I was completely caught up in the events of this book. I felt the stress of not only the circumstances surrounding The Lodger, but also the tug of war being waged in the Buntings’s consciousness between the shame of greed and the spectre of returning poverty. Lowndes has a deft hand in how she reveals information. I found myself constantly reevaluating what I knew and was frequently baffled about what I really wanted to have happen. Highly recommended for those who want a bit of well written Victorian horror in the month of October.