In all the years that I've been a fan of detective fiction - British crime fiction in particular - the works of Patricia Moyes have floated around the periphery of my reading in the genre, occasionally stirring my interest. However, it wasn't until recently that I actually sat down and read one. Many Deadly Returns (published in the U.K. as Who Saw Her Die?), is the ninth of 19 novels Moyes wrote, between 1959's Dead Men Don't Ski and 1993's Twice in a Blue Moon, featuring the mild-mannered yet shrewd Inspector Henry Tibbett and his perceptive wife, Emmy. And a very enjoyable mystery it is, with an intriguing set-up and a cleverly worked out, fairly clued plot.
The blurb on the back cover lays out the scenario nicely:
"Lady Balaclava, an eccentric socialite with a huge fortune, is about to celebrate her birthday. When her Ouija board warns of danger, she takes a special precaution: Chief Superintendent Henry Tibbett and his wife are asked to attend.
The now elderly Lady Crystal Balaclava was quite a woman-about-town back in her heyday, and has many influential friends. The assistant commissioner of Scotland Yard tasks Tibbett to surreptitiously keep an eye on things. Tibbett reluctantly agrees to head out to Foxes' Trot, Lady Balaclava's aging eyesore of an estate, on what he thinks is a fool's errand...but his detective "Spidey sense" start tingling once he meets Crystal, her bluff, longtime companion, Dolly Underwood-Threep, and Crystal's three daughters, who've all assembled for her annual birthday celebrations. Lady Balaclava proves to be full of surface charm but is a bit of a scheming minx, and her youngest daughter Daffodil ("Daffy" for short), married to rich American tycoon Charles Z. Swarsheimer, is cut from the same cloth. Middle daughter Violet lives in working-class surroundings in Holland with her husband, Piet van der Hoven, who grows first-class roses. Oldest daughter Primrose has settled in Geneva and is married to an eminent Swiss doctor, Edouard Duval. Lady Balaclava's long-dead husband had carefully planned out his will, ensuring that none of the daughters would inherit anything until the death of their mother, and further, that their husbands have no legal way of laying a finger on the money themselves.
So when Lady Crystal drops dead on her birthday in front of everyone, Tibbett is certain she was poisoned. But who did it - and how it was done - prove fiendishly difficult to suss out. For one, motives seem thin on the ground, especially when the likeliest suspect, old pal Dolly, who, seemingly much to her surprise - and the daughters' annoyance - inherits the house, jewelry and a handsome 50,000 pounds, is poisoned as well. Dolly isn't killed, merely hospitalized...which begs the question - was she a victim, or is she playing an even deadlier game? With his storied professional reputation at stake, Tibbett takes a leave of absence to get to the bottom of the case and unmask a ruthless, cunning killer...
Moyes writes smoothly and with a good deal of quiet, observational wit, and this ends up being an intelligent take on the classic "country house" style of murder mystery, albeit in a more modern setting and with a good deal of location hopping, as Henry and Emmy travel to London, Holland and Switzerland during the course of their investigations. While the Balaclava offspring and their mates remain aloof and mostly unlikeable, it's more than made up for by the vivid characterization of Dolly - one of those wonderfully phlegmatic, redoubtable eccentrics that frequently populate British crime fiction. And, of course, Tibbett and Emmy are charming, if low-key, company. Overall, this is a solid mystery novel that delivers the goods, served up with panache - not as richly drawn and colorful as a Margery Allingham or Gladys Mitchell yarn, perhaps, but definitely worth the time for detective story addicts.
My grade: B +
Welcome to the Armchair...
Look out the window. It’s a dark, cold, rainy day. Too nasty to go outside.
Better stay inside, read a good book.
There’s a bookcase over to your left. Run your fingers over the spines. Books of all shapes, sizes and genres; hardbacks, paperbacks. Take your time browsing through the titles. No rush. Find something that feels just right.
Now turn around. Over in the corner is a beat-up, black leather armchair. The leather is faded and cracked in places, the cushions battered. This chair has seen better days. But boy, does it look inviting...
Next to the chair is a standing lamp and a small table. Plenty of room for a nice cup of tea, a plate of cookies, whatever’s your poison.
So switch on the light, settle down with your book, open to page one, put your feet up, and let the author whisk you away to another world.
Be sure to subscribe to the RSS feed below, to be informed of new postings!
My Reader's Block
Tipping My Fedora
At the Scene of the Crime
Complete Disregard for Spoilers
The Passing Tramp
In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel
The Charlie Chan Family Home
The Agatha Christie Official Website
The Stone House (The Gladys Mitchell Official Site)