[Excerpts from throughout book]
Barbara had blonde, fashionably frizzy hair, and wore a costume that seemed to have been influenced by both India and the Cossacks, and certainly came from a way-out London boutique—the sort of outfit that only the young and skeletal can get away with.
Henry noticed, as she led the way into the sitting room, that she was wearing a sort of gypsy skirt in brilliant colors and a shapeless knitted blouse. Barbara Oppenshaw was certainly not in mourning.
comments There is something very soothing about reading a Patricia Moyes book: ideal for a lockdown situation. I had to keep checking the date on this one: yes it was 1983, but it might as well have been 1963 or 1973. There were many very promising points, and it is always pleasant to spend time with policeman Henry Tibbett and his wife Emmy - the real ongoing mystery being why she hasn’t murdered him yet, though the unironic Moyes take seems to be that they are a devoted and happy couple.
Henry starts getting crossword clues through the post, and the solutions (obtained with the help of a character from an earlier book, Murder Fantastical) hint at crimes in the past. Henry works out there must be a connection with a social weekend he is about to attend, where a number of disparate people are collected. And yes, it turns out each of the other guests has a connection with a past ‘situation’ which may have been a crime. Is it a prank? Is the real crime hidden in some others? What is going on?
Well this is splendid! A cross between Agatha Christie’s Mrs McGinty’s Dead and her And Then There Were None.
Even better – after some chitchat about all this, one of the characters says to Henry ‘I must talk to you at 5pm’ and then says ‘I’m just going off to collect something important from my parents’ house’. He might as well add ‘I will be on horseback on a lonely clifftop path, I obviously have something major on my mind, and will have some evidence in my pocket on the way home. I have let you all know this. What can possibly go wrong?’ I will leave you to guess…
I had a faint feeling of disappointment as Moyes did not make the best of this entrancing plot. It all got rather convoluted, and one major plotline took place completely off-stage. And was described in by-then tiresome detail when it was finally discussed after the murderer had been identified. Again - half way through, Henry makes an enormous assumption and asks a key question: I felt this was completely unclued and came out of nowhere, but couldn’t quite be bothered to go back and check, but I would like it to have been seeded. And then again, near the end a character reveals their feelings and says ‘You will have guessed…’ – but I felt there was no reason to guess.
But it kept me going, even though it tailed off in the second half, and I very much liked the setting on the Isle of Wight, a place known to me somewhat.
There are always strange details in Moyes books – in this one we learn that it is not OK to have a cup of tea at 2.30 in the afternoon, it is ‘less than suitable’ (no, no idea). Then later at a beach picnic someone is roundly mocked (with authorial approval) for wanting a soft drink – there is only alcohol on offer, unless she is willing to ‘wait for the ice to melt and drink the water’. Both these items puzzled me…
And there was the traditional inquest in the small country town. It is my proud boast that as a young journalist I went to cover my first inquest, and filed my story to be looked over by someone more senior. ‘But this is perfect’ he said, ‘don’t need to change a word. I normally expect to explain a lot about the format of the inquest and the subsequent story, the legal details. How come you know so much about inquests?’ and of course the answer was that I had read about so many of them in murder stories that I had the lingo off pat, and knew exactly what happened.
Moyes doesn’t have very elaborate clothes descriptions here, which is rather a disappointment as she once worked at Vogue – my favourite of her books is Murder a la Mode, about fashion mags and Paris collections, and I am particularly proud of the photograph I found to illustrate that book, do take a look. But Moyes has her eye in and you can often imagine her outfits, which is what I have done here. From a striped cotton dress with a cashmere cardigan, to Emmy’s evening outfit of a long black skirt with a pink chiffon blouse, the clothes feel right. Even then they didn’t actually feel very 80s, but I have given young Barbara some truly proper outfits of the early 80s from fashion magazines, and picked some others from sewing patterns of the era.
The crossword expert mentioned above, incidentally, is the retired Bishop of Bugolaland. And:
‘The Bishop, a well-known eccentric, was often to be seen jogging along the road, dressed in sneakers, running shorts, and a clerical collar. “A man should take sufficient exercise, wear clothing suitable to the activity, but never lose sight of his vocation,” as the Bishop frequently explained to surprised passersby.’
So sad that I have no picture for that.
There are several of Moyes’ books on the blog, and in this post I take a look at Henry and Emmy as a sleuthing couple.