Archy Mitford has survived three attempts on his life so far. A near-miss in a hit-and-run incident, a poisoned chocolate box sent to him and a good, old-fashioned push in front of a speeding train – he confides in his closest friends but does not want to go to the police. You could argue that this is a bit of a mistake, as the fourth attempt is successful – Archy is found hanging from the ceiling, but it clearly wasn’t suicide.
Enter Chief Inspector Pardoe – but his investigation is hampered by too many leads. Archy encountered a number of odd occurrences in the days before his death, but which, if any, led to his death? And what, if anything, does it have to do with a disappearing millionaire?
Dorothy Bowers, an English teacher and crossword setter, only wrote five mystery novels before her untimely death in 1948, featuring Detective Inspector Dan Pardoe. Like another author whose career was cut short, Christopher St John Sprigg, Moonstone Press have recently reprinted all of her work in handsome paperback versions.
The plot builds slowly, taking time with some of the characters and incidents, and unlike some writers, not shying away from current politics – one of the characters is described as a fascist, although that doesn’t really impinge on the plot. Once Pardoe turns up, the focus switches entirely to him and his investigation.
This is a very densely plotted tale, with lots of different strands to pick on. It is perhaps overlong. Despite the dialogue being entertainingly written, there are some areas where it does seem to delay the progress of the plot and defuse the tension. It could perhaps have benefited from a more flamboyant sleuth – the structure focussing on the investigation reflects Crofts’ Inspector French tales to a degree, although French’s personal ambition helps to push those tales forward.
Still, there is a lot to like here, with some very interesting and original clues. Many thanks to Moonstone Press for the review copy.
All of Bowers’ novels were republished last year in ebook by Black Heath Editions. This is not the best but they are all underrated and somewhat neglected. She merits a wider readership.
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Ebook versions of all Bowers’ novels are available from both Moonstone Press and Black Heath Editions