The Strange Files of Fremont Jones by Dianne Day


Well, only two files, but then she’s new at the job.

Caroline F. Jones, a young woman of somewhat bluestocking tendencies, finds life with her widowed father’s fiancee as a visitor to her household bad enough, as the potential stepmother already shows tendencies to meddle in her potential stepdaughter’s life. After the imminent marriage, she can only imagine how the lady in question will interfere in her life…and so she leaves Boston for San Francisco, with a small inheritance from her mother and one of those new-fangled devices, a typewriter, to make her way and hopefully her fortune. When she sets up in business, she chooses to go by Fremont Jones (Fremont being her middle name) both as a more business appropriate gender-neutral name and also because the name change serves as a divide between her girlhood in Boston and her independence in San Francisco.

At ten cents a page, she’ll need a fair bit of business even at 1905 prices, but in the first few weeks of business, she manages to meet expenses. She has a few regular clients, one of whom is Justin Cameron, a young lawyer setting out in his career, who not only brings her all the documents needing typing that a law office (even a new one) can produce but proves appealing to Fremont on an emotional and physical level. She has walk-in clients, two of whom prove pivotal to the plot and to the melodrama: a distraught, possibly mad, young man named Edgar Allan Partridge who leaves three longhand novellas written in the style of Edgar Allan Poe fanfic for her to type and throws a wad of bills onto her desk, only to disappear, and a mysterious Chinaman, who dictates what appears to be his last will and testament…and promptly disappears, only to be murdered shortly thereafter.

Fremont determines to delve into the two men’s disappearances, between typing clients. In the case of Mr. Partridge, she wishes to return his manuscript and the typewritten copy. In the case of Li Wong, it can only be described as nosiness–he has gotten what he paid for and left satisfied but she can’t help wondering if what she typed had some connection to his untimely demise. To further complicate matters, her nosy Irish landlady puts Fremont onto the idea that one of the other tenants is a Russian spy, and then disappears herself, leaving Fremont to finger her newly acquired sword cane and jump at every creak on the staircase.

All is at least somewhat explained, though not happily for all characters, by the end of the book. There are, however, enough loose ends for a decade long series.

Astute readers will probably find this an enjoyable but not entirely fulfilling mystery. Enjoyable enough to seek out the subsequent books in the series–writers often do take a novel or two to hit their own authorial stride–but hardly a brilliant mystery on its own. Good guessers will find the foreshadowing a bit tedious, however. It’s a pleasant afternoon’s read but I can’t help but wish Day had picked just one of the mysteries to concentrate on in this novel. As it stands, the novel seems like two plots crammed into one binding, but without a proper conclusion for either plot or either romance.

I noticed a few minor errors. “High tea” is not a fancy version of afternoon tea, but rather something approximating a light supper. The child of one’s second cousin is not one’s third cousin but one’s second cousin once removed. There are a couple of stereotypes which will make members of the groups in question cringe. I can’t address either the issue of the culture of Chinese immigrants to the world of the gwailo or that of the mentally unstable, though I’d appreciate it if members of either group who’ve read the book let me know how they thought Day handled the character(s) in question.

Overall it’s an enjoyable light afternoon’s read. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone who was looking for a bit of beach reading or a diversion while waiting in a hospital. As with a number of the other mysteries I’ve read for this blog, read it, enjoy it, but don’t stop to analyze the plot.

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