Cupids – a novel of money and murder
I did it again. I judged a book by its cover.
Old saws aside, publishers encourage buyers to be judgmental. Otherwise, they wouldn’t spend so much time — and money — on cover design, eh b’ys?
I also judged Paul Butler’s “Cupids” by its title. I expected this short novel to be about ... well, Cupids.
The bow and arrow on the cover suggested Beothuks. I reckoned the novel would be a yarn about the colonization of Newfoundland, its plot sparked up by some romance — p’raps — and conflict between the settlers and the prototypical Red Indians. B’ys, was I wrong. I failed to notice the arrow on the cover is a forkey-tongued snake.
Although the story begins in Newfoundland, in Cupers Cove, most of the action takes place in Bristol, England where John Guy is trying to procure financial backing for his impoverished colony.
Ah, raising money. Money, the desire for which often causes men and women to do bad stuff.
Speaking of bad stuff, this novel isn’t mostly about John Guy. It’s about Bartholomew, a bad young feller.
Young Barth, who in Guy’s mind is “a neat bird designed for the pleasure of viewing” (!) but who thinks of himself as the ‘natural receptacle of sin’, has done a bad thing. He has burned all the grain in Cupers Cove.
Intending to take Barth back to England for punishment, Guy claps him in irons.
However, at sea, upon the deep and lonesome briny, Guy, yearning for his heart’s desire, Eliza Egret, is lead astray by — guess what? — the snake on the book’s cover, the serpent in the Garden. Guy feels ... well, just listen to him: “ Something moves below my belt.”
Way out on the stormy ocean, Guy becomes enthralled by Young Barth and by the time their schooner docks in Bristol, he is a puppet in Barth’s manipulative hands, or some such appropriate cliché metaphor.
The novel becomes dark. Murder is afoot.
Old Man Egret has loads of money, three bags full. If Egret were to die, the money would then be controlled by his sister-in-law Matilda.
Ah, Matilda. Matilda says little but knits constantly. She knits like that mythological honey ‘Clotho’, one of the three Sisters Fate who control human destiny, the one who knits the skeins of human life.
Or she knits like Madame DeFarge, that good woman in ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ who purls and purls in Paris while heads — chopclunk — roll away from the guillotine’s well-honed edge.
It is reticent Matilda who sows the seed for homicide. Young Barth cultivates the field. Beguiler that he is, he quickly has Helen the servant girl considering Egret’s imminent demise.
The scene in which Helen ponders plying poisonous potions reminds me of prose that might have been penned by my favourite dead English author, Thomas Hardy. He loved grotesque details.