Book review: The House of a Thousand Candles

I stood looking at the plaque in front of the house. I was strolling up Delaware Street before enjoying a play at the Benjamin Harrison house (yes, that Harrison—the former US President). I looked at the house and back down to the plaque. Holy smokes! This is where my mom lived in her single days all those years ago.

The claim to fame of the house—other than it being where my mom lived—is that Meredith Nicholson lived here. Until that point, I had never heard of Nicholson or his book for which his house gathered its moniker. I knew of some famous Hoosier authors and poets—Kurt Vonneget and James Whitcomb Riley—but didn’t realize that there was a golden age of Indiana literature (1880-1920) or art (1877-1902).

Nicholson wrote during the later part of the golden age, during the first decades of the twentieth century. Several of his books were best sellers, including The House of the Thousand Candles. I was intrigued.

I found The House of a Thousand Candles to be easy to read, a book that I didn’t want to put down. The book is filled with delightfully worded prose that often made me laugh.

  • Describing his nemesis: “I never liked Pickering’s hands; they were thick and white and better kept than I like to see a man’s hands.”
  • In response to his best friend’s legal woes: “You were certainly born to be hanged, Larry.”
  • In speculating about a Christian school: “I suppose they…labor valiantly to bring confusion upon Satan and his cohorts.”
  • In describing his own dogged refusal to budge: “I am, however, a person given to steadfastness in error, if nothing else.”
  • Pondering a man he met: “…experience taught me long ago that a knave with humor is doubly dangerous.”
  • To response to the hammering he heard in the house: “I pondered these things with a thoroughly-awakened interest in life.”
  • After an encounter with a love interest: “Quoting poetry in a snow-storm while you stumble through a woodland behind a girl who shows no interest in either your prose or your rhymes has it embarrassments.”

The main part of the book takes place in Indiana but the exact location is hard to pinpoint. Indianapolis, Kokomo, and the Wabash River are mentioned. Our hero—Glenarm—takes a train to Cincinnati, which seems to take just a few hours. But other than these few tidbits, we aren’t privy to where Wabana County and Annandale are supposed to be located. (Perhaps Wabash County?)

The House of a Thousand Candles is a mystery novel. John Glenarm, a no-good wanderer of the world and prolific spender, is summoned back to the US after his grandfather’s death. The will, be executed by his childhood foe, stipulates that Glenarm must spend a year ensconced in his grandfather’s half-built house in Indiana. To leave the confines means he forfeits his grandfather’s inheritance.

Only there isn’t an inheritance other than the house and lands. His grandfather, a wealthy man, died without any funds. The locals are convinced that his wealth is hidden on his lands. Numerous incidents occur with one person or another attempting to find the hidden loot.

Glenarm has several close calls with life and limb. He is watched by the servant that his grandfather used and tormented by a girl/woman who haunts the lake and school that abut his property. Although he correctly surmises not to trust the executor of the will, his childhood foe, things are always what they seem. The ending comes with a twist that reveals his deep mistaken beliefs about some people around him.

The House of Thousand Candles is well worth the read and piques my curiosity about other Nicholson works…as well as other Hoosier authors of the golden age of Indiana literature.


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