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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Solomon's Vineyard

Jonathan Latimer

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To purchase Solomon's Vineyard

Title: Solomon's Vineyard
Author: Jonathan Latimer
Genre: Novel
Written: 1941
Length: 160 pages
Availability: Solomon's Vineyard - US
Solomon's Vineyard - UK
Solomon's Vineyard - Canada
La Corrida chez le prophète - France
Salomons Weinberg - Deutschland
La vigna di Salomone - Italia
  • Originally published in the UK; first published in the US, in expurgated form, as The Fifth Grave

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Our Assessment:

B : fast and wild ride, with a bit too much of everything

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Sunday Times . 9/11/1941 Milward Kennedy

  From the Reviews:
  • "Jonathan Latimer usually blends the tough with the smooth and humorous; in Solomon's Vineyard he is content with the tough. (...) Other readers will enjoy it, but will not find in it the urgent sincerity which gives the tough novels much more than a sensational value." - Milward Kennedy, Sunday Times

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Solomon's Vineyard of the title is a religious colony; as a local puts it, they: "Raise grapes ... and hell". Their longtime leader, named Solomon, apparently passed away five years ago, but they haven't quite let go, expecting him to rise again:

They had embalmed him like Lenin and had put him in a glass coffin where the people could look at him. They were waiting for the Day of Judgment, when Solomon would jump out and lead his people to heaven in a flaming catafalque.
       In the meantime, they do good business (both legal and not so much) locally, a significant power economically and otherwise. The police chief is weak and defers to the local powers, who also include Pug Banta, a former East St. Louis gangster who has now set himself up here in Paulton as the local tough, divvying things up with the Vineyard.
       The novel opens with private investigator Karl Craven, who narrates the story, arriving in Paulton. He quickly gets the lay of the land: Latimer's description of his taxi ride to a hotel nicely makes clear just how rotten to the core everything about the place is, down to the taxi turning left: "where it said No Left Turn". The case he's working on is a very well-paying job, and sounds simple enough: a young woman named Penelope Grayson has joined the Vineyard cult, and Craven is supposed to get her out of there. It's soon clear, however, that this won't be very straightforward. Craven's partner, who had been sniffing around in Paulton, turns up murdered before Craven can talk to him. And Penelope -- who claims she's doing just fine and doesn't want to leave the Vineyard -- is scheduled to be the centerpiece in a Ceremony of the Bride in a few days time -- a ceremony that, as Craven learns, has left the past years' headliners not so much wed as dead.
       Craven is, in many ways, a larger-than-life character. As he puts it: "There were only three things I really liked in the world; food, fighting and ... women. Oh yes, and maybe liquor" -- and, as he soon demonstrates, he indulges in all of these, arguably to considerable excess. He's physically huge -- around two hundred and forty pounds -- and his appetite is enormous. He goes through incredible amounts of alcohol and food, ordering six double lamb chops for breakfast, for example, or mentioning: "I had a four-pound steak for lunch. I couldn't seem to get enough meat". He sweats a lot, too -- it's sweltering in Paulton -- and relaxes both in cold baths and hot saunas; there's a lot of physical description in Solomon's Vineyard.
       Craven also riles things up quickly, beginning by asking and taking out Ginger -- Pug Banta's girl. But the woman who really caught his eye is a blonde known as the Princess, an important figure at the Vineyard. Craven is warned: "They say that blonde's poison" but that's not nearly enough to scare him off. She's something of an enigma, but she's also interested; she also has some quite specific (and disturbing) demands during their sex-play -- while also not letting Craven kiss her on the lips. (It's this twisted sex -- not described in any great detail, but her kink certainly made clear enough -- that presumably led to the book long not being publishable, in this form, in the United States.)
       The local lawyer, McGee, seems also to have had his issues with the Vineyard over the years, but hasn't had much success in his legal challenges; still, he's as close to an ally as Craven can find in this town. Meanwhile, Craven also has to stay on the Princess' good side, as insurance against Pug taking him out, the mini-Mafioso knowing just how much say and sway the Princess has at the Vineyard, a boat he doesn't want to rock. The Princess can be exhausting, but on the whole Craven doesn't mind satisfying her -- as it also give him access to and insight into the Vineyard. Still, she's also very insistent that Craven not complete his mission: Penelope Grayson has to stay.
       Craven stirs up trouble wherever he turns -- no soft touch here -- and so the story is action- (and corpse-)packed. The more he sees, the more he realizes just how intertwined everything and everyone is. Craven also realizes that none of the locals -- police or otherwise -- could possibly cut through all this criminal conspiracy (mostly because they're all involved in it, one way or another), and that outside intervention is the only thing that could help clear things up. He's hoping for a state investigation.
An investigation was what I wanted. They'd find out the Vineyard's connexion with vice and gambling, and that would get the Grayson girl out. Everything would be jake, only I'd probably be dead.
       Naturally things come to a head as the Ceremony of the Bride approaches -- with a whole lot happening leading up to that. Still, that then is the highpoint -- and it, in a nice bit of novelistic excess, turns out to be even freakier than imagined (while Craven is able to take advantage of the situation to put all the right pieces in place for a just (of sorts) resolution).
       Solomon's Vineyard is rough and tumble -- certainly in its action. Craven seems to do almost everything looking for trouble -- and he finds a lot of it. It doesn't seem like the greatest approach for a private investigator to take -- though one does have to hand it to him that his identity (and what he's doing there) isn't immediately known to one and all.
       Known as a screenwriter, Latimer shows decent but not great form here with the dialogue; the heaps of over-the-top action -- with the odd lulls (mainly filled with consumption (of food and liquor) and napping) -- don't leave that much room for lighter banter. Craven is also so damn aggressively confrontational throughout, mostly getting very quickly to the point. Only with some of the novel's deeper characters -- the mysterious the Princess, certainly, and to some extent the local lawyer McGee -- does Latimer show a bit more patience, and it pays off in those scenes.
       The novel's resolution is certainly a winner, though there could have been more build-up to that. Otherwise, Solomon's Vineyard is often too crowded with action. It's ultimately a reasonably satisfying thriller, but -- like Craven -- lacks polish; that's fine as far as Craven goes, but less so regarding the novel as a whole. Latimer heaps a lot on, constantly and fast; a bit less, in every sense, and this would have worked better.

- M.A.Orthofer, 4 June 2021

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Solomon's Vineyard: Reviews: Jonathan Latimer: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       American author and screenwriter Jonathan Latimer lived 1906 to 1983.

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© 2021 the complete review

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