Sydney Fowler was not a name I was familiar with, before finding this title of his on a book swapping site. Though this was only the pseudonym S. Fowl Wright used when writing crime fiction and he also wrote science fiction, poetry and plays. He was also an editor, an accountant and a political activist. So quite busy then! What makes this story applicable to the Tuesday Night Blogger’s theme is that the crime in question is the poisoning of a demanding and petty wife called Anabella Hackett with arsenic. There are three suspects. James Hackett her husband, her sister Anne Bickerton, and Rose Dorling, ‘the lady help.’ Initially it seems like there is an even amount of suspicion between the suspects, who do not seem that keen on each other. Firstly there is James who is a hostile witness in the stand and has been relying on his wife’s money for a year whilst his engineering firm have not been paying him a penny. Then there is Rose who was an old acquaintance of James, but says she took up the job (after being out of work from teaching for a term) not knowing he would be her employer. She was also the one who made the suggestion of buying the weed killer and was the person to first open it.
However, things soon change and suspicion becomes most concentrated towards Anne who had the best opportunity for giving Anabella the poison as she was one who gave her, her afternoon cup of tea and hours later arsenic is found in the dregs of the tea. There even seems to be a solid motive as shortly before her death she changed her will in favour of her sister. The saying goes that it ain’t all over until the fat lady sings, but in this it ain’t all over until the judge at the trial does the final summing up – an event in this book which becomes highly irregular…
There are many strengths to this court based drama, though the main one is the three suspects in terms of psychology, as up until the end of story the reader doesn’t know for sure who is guilty or who is innocent. What are the true relations between them? Are they genuinely supportive at times or is it to their own advantage? This trio are also interesting as they themselves don’t know whether they can trust each other or not, yet are stuck in each other’s company. Can they maintain polite veneers or will the gloves come off? Another strength of this book is that the personable narrator allows us to see the case from all points of view, showing how people’s individual differences and characters affect how they view the case. I think my only criticism of this book is its’ pacing in the final section of the novel. The solution to the case is surprising, yet because the ending is drawn out too much, it loses its’ clout and impact, leading the slightly bored reader to wonder how good the solution is. Fowler’s fealty to showing a court case accurately unfortunately hampers the pace of the novel. My sense of boredom at the end of the book also left me feeling like Anne is a bit of wet lettuce and also that the other characters alter quite drastically. Quicker pacing would have probably prevented this as I know for me personally a quicker narrative would have ensued I didn’t have time to think about these issues, as it would have held my attention more closely.
See also: Martin Edwards on his own blog has also reviewed this book.