[Henry and Emmy Tibbett have been invited to a very fancy party during a trip to Geneva]
The Villa Trounex was en fete. Every downstairs window of the great, beautiful house glowed and glittered with the dancing light of crystal chandeliers.
Paul and Natasha Hampton were famous for their parties, so their heavily embossed invitation cards were prized trophies on the mantelpieces of Geneva. The lucky recipient of such a card could look forward confidently to an evening of unostentatious luxury, of impeccable service, of elegance without stiffness, and of stimulating company…
Natasha Hampton was the sort of woman who turns heads wherever she goes – tiny and blonde, with a face whose exquisite bone structure takes the breath. This evening she was wearing a short, slim dress of pale grey sating, utterly simple and quite faultless. The diamonds at her wrist and the pearls at her neck seemed to have grown there naturally…
Emmy let her attention wander over the general scene. It was, she reflected, exactly like an episode from a film: an early Orson Welles or a middle-period Fellini, where, in a setting of great opulence, the camera moves leisurely but with deadly observation, picking up a gesture here, a snatch of conversation there, a smile, a moment of anger. Pleased with this conceit, Emmy set her own eye to roving at random, like a searchlight beam. It was rewarding.
commentary: Patricia Moyes started her series about Henry Tibbett in 1958, and continued for another 35 years: this is an early entry – and comes just before Murder a La Mode, a mystery set in the fashion world which we greatly enjoyed on the blog last year.
Death on the Agenda has an intriguing and authentic setting: policeman Henry has been sent to Geneva for an international conference on the drugs trade, and takes his wife Emmy with him. Moyes herself was married to someone deeply involved in the world of European international organizations, and obviously knew Geneva well. The plot concerns a leak at the conference – vital info is being passed to the drug smugglers – and when a murder happens, the number of possible suspects is tiny, and the time constraints important. I kept hoping the answer to the time problem wasn’t going to be quite as simple as it seemed to be.
Henry is viewed as a suspect for a time (though the reader is never in any doubt of his innocence) and behaves in a very unexpected way in another area as well, and I was quite taken aback.
But I enjoyed the book anyway – such a great description of a certain way of life and milieu.
I liked the backstory of Natasha (above) – after WW2, living in aching poverty, she gets herself to a smart party:
A girl friend of mine worked for a couturier, and she sneaked a dress and a mink stole out of the collection for me to wear. I spent the whole evening in a state of panic in case somebody spilled wine on the dress or burned a cigarette hole in the mink. When Paul asked me to lunch with him the next day, I nearly cried… I couldn’t tell him that I couldn’t accept because I had nothing to wear.And there’s a wonderfully-1962-moment where Henry says to a young woman out and about ‘put your gloves on and put this back’ and she says ‘I haven’t got any. I never wear them in the summer.’ We are on the cusp between a world where a respectable young woman can be assumed to have gloves, and one where she no longer needs to…
Crime writer and expert Martin Edwards, a big fan of Patricia Moyes, reviewed this one on his Do You Write Under Your Own Name blog here.
The picture is of a Ball in 1961, from Kristine’s photostream.