EVELYN BERCKMAN – Journey’s End.

Avon, paperback reprint; 1st pr., July 1978. Hardcover edition: Doubleday & Co., 1977; first published in UK as Be All and End All, Hamish Hamilton, 1976.

Be All and End All

   From Twelfth Night:

“Trip no further, pretty sweeting;
Journeys end in lover’s meeting,
Every wise man’s son doth know”

   Or possibly (more likely, given the apostrophe) Othello:

“Here is my journey’s end, here is my butt,
And very sea-mark of my utmost sail.”

   As for the British title, consider Macbeth, as the leading character is contemplating the killing of Duncan:

“…that but this blow
Might be the be-all and the end-all…
…We’d jump the life to come”

   What is also remarkable, in a prescient melancholy sort of way, is that this is Evelyn Berckman’s final novel, written when she was in her late 70s, two or three years before her death in 1978. She did not start writing mystery novels until she was 54 (with The Evil of Time, 1954), but once begun, she averaged a book a year, plus or minus a small fraction.

   Having not read any but this one, I can hardly characterize her work in any definitive fashion, but in paperback, at least, her books were often packaged as Gothic Romances, or if not, as Romantic Suspense, with the usual damsel in some sort of distress on the cover.

   Since her work was always published in hardcover first, I have a strong hunch that her books had more behind them than that, however, and if you were to go by this book alone, with its strong, in-depth characterizations, the hunch is even stronger. In and of itself, Journey’s End is a melancholy book, filled with melancholy people, with a melancholy ending. Generating most of the plot are a husband and wife who are hired as consultants to evaluate the remnants of an old French woman’s estate.

Journey's End

   Their marriage is unhappy, however, and perhaps it has never been consummated. The husband is gay, and before his wife arrives, he finds himself head-over-heels madly in love (and in an affair) with a young lad who had been working for the dead woman. That the young lad is also unscrupulous almost goes without saying. If this suggests that the characters seem difficult to sympathize with, it is not so. They are fussily drawn, but that does not make one feel uncharitable toward them, and – somewhat to my own surprise – quite the opposite.

   In the midst of the old furniture (all valuable) is a library with hundreds of old documents, dating back to the 1600s. This is a work of criminous fiction, but is there a crime involved? It is difficult to say. On page 123, though, I can tell you this: I sat back and said Wow. (Perhaps I should not tell you anything more definitive than this, and I do not believe I will, but there are some hints hidden in this review.)

   Other than this deliberately non-descriptive description, this is a nearly unclassifiable tale, and it’s one that I believe will stick around upside my head for a while.


   Here’s a complete bibliography for Evelyn Berckman’s mystery fiction, as taken from Crime Fiction IV, by Allen J. Hubin. US editions only, unless the British titles differ, and in chronological order:

      BERCKMAN, EVELYN (Domenica)

* The Evil of Time (n.) Dodd 1954 [Germany]
* The Beckoning Dream (n.) Dodd 1955. Published as Worse Than Murder: Dell, pb, 1957.
* The Strange Bedfellow (n.) Dodd 1956. Published as Jewel of Death: Pyramid, pb, 1968. [Germany]

Jewel of Death

* The Blind Villain (n.) Dodd 1957. Published as House of Terror: Dell, pb, 1960. [Philadelphia, PA]
* The Hovering Darkness (n.) Dodd 1957 [Ship]
* No Known Grave (n.) Dodd 1958
* Lament for Four Brides (n.) Dodd 1959 [France]
* Do You Know This Voice? (n.) Dodd 1960
* Blind Girl’s Buff (n.) Dodd 1962 [England]
* A Thing That Happens to You (n.) Dodd 1964. Published as Keys from a Window: Eyre, UK, 1965.
* A Simple Case of Ill-Will (n.) Dodd 1965 [London]
* Stalemate (n.) Doubleday 1966 [England]
* The Heir of Starvelings (n.) Doubleday 1967 [England]
* -A Case in Nullity (n.) Doubleday 1968. Published as A Hidden Malice: Belmont, pb, 1978. [England]
* The Long Arm of the Prince (n.) Hale 1968 [England; 1600s]
* She Asked for It (n.) Doubleday 1969 [Los Angeles, CA]
* The Voice of Air (n.) Doubleday 1970 [France]
* A Finger to Her Lips (n.) Doubleday 1971 [Germany; 1700s]
* The Fourth Man on the Rope (n.) Doubleday 1972 [England]
* The Stake in the Game (n.) Doubleday 1973
* The Victorian Album (n.) Doubleday 1973 [London]
* Wait, Just You Wait (n.) Doubleday 1974. Previously appeared as Wait: H. Hamilton, UK, 1973. [England]
* The Nightmare Chase (n.) Doubleday 1975. Published in the UK as Indecent Exposure: H. Hamilton, 1975 [England]
* The Crown Estate (n.) Doubleday 1976. Published in the UK as The Blessed Plot: H. Hamilton 1976. [England; 1200s and present]
* Journey’s End (n.) Doubleday 1977. Previously appeared as Be All and End All: H. Hamilton, UK, hc, 1976. [France]

— December 2004