Source: Review Copy (Sphere, Imprint of Little Brown Publishing)]
Originally entitled Another Little Murder, both this book and the author were new to me until a couple of weeks ago. Not much seems to be known about this author other than the fact she wrote three other mystery novels called Murder in Devil’s Hollow (1944), Talking of Murder (1945) and The Death Box (1946). There are some second hand copies of these novels available online but they don’t come cheap.
The novel’s protagonist is Dylis Hughes, a commercial traveller for chemist products and she is also part owner of the company she works for; Compton, Webber and Hughes. Her friends think she should settle down, but I’d warmed to Dylis quickly, liking her independent and plucky nature, even if she is a bit reckless. This recklessness is immediately apparent in the opening chapter when she decides to push on to another town in rural Yorkshire. It being December, the weather and roads are atrocious and the reader is not surprised when she gets her car stuck in a snowbank. However, help soon arrives in the form of Inigo Brown, who is on his way to his uncle’s country home, Wintry Wold and he invites her to spend the night there, since nothing can be done for her car at the moment. Yet arriving at Wintry Wold is the beginning and not the end of her troubles…
From the uncouth and unlikely servants and the assortment of other travellers also staying the night at Wintry Wold due to the bad weather, to Inigo’s uncle’s much younger wife, Theresa, things are decidedly odd and suspicious to say the least. This suspicion mostly rests on Theresa who seems reluctant to have additional guests and is keen that Inigo should not see his uncle, stressing how ill he is. Very quickly Dylis notices a number of discrepancies between what Theresa is saying and what is actually happening. This is especially the case when Dylis, eager to find out who or what is making thumping noises during the night, comes across Inigo’s uncle, who doesn’t seem as ill as Theresa is making out and who in fact seems rather anxious to speak to Inigo. Events seemingly settle down until the bombshell of Inigo’s uncle’s death is announced the following morning. But is it by natural causes? More snow bound and suspicious travellers follow, as do more odd and eerie events, making it hard for Dylis to know who to trust. The truth is eventually unveiled piece by piece in a fast paced and action focused finale.
On the whole I enjoyed this action packed mystery and I think part of the story’s strength is its characters, as Morgan creates an entertaining mixture of people, including journalists, van men and health fanatics, who often don’t get on, yet are stuck in each other’s company due to the weather. The central trio of Theresa, Inigo and Dylis are particularly engaging and the occasional cattish comments between Theresa and Dylis are quite amusing. One thing which I found odd was one of the lunch’s they ate which consisted of curry and spaghetti. Is that or was that a thing? Maybe they just ran out of rice. Minor culinary queries aside Morgan has an attention grabbing narrative style and she gives an entertaining Christmas mystery and her choice of setting and depiction of a sinister and eerie atmosphere work effectively. I also liked when the truth is revealed it is not done all in one go and that there are still further twists and surprises once the truth begins to be unfolded. In terms of its style I would say this book is closer to J Jefferson Farjeon’s Mystery in White (1938) than say Christie’s Hercule Poirot’s Christmas (1938) or Mavis Doriel Hay’s Santa Klaus Murder (1936). But since I really enjoyed Farjeon’s novel, this is no bad thing.
I think my only significant criticism of this book is that the ending is rather rushed and involves a certain amount of events taking place off stage. I think it would have been a more effective ending if it was a bit longer and if there were less of these off stage events. The romantic close for the book although fitting did irk me a little as I felt it implied the end of Dylis’ independent nature and lifestyle, which I felt a shame, as that was one of the main reasons I liked her. Nevertheless I think Morgan overall tells an entertaining story and I would be interested in trying her work again, though I may have to wait until it is reprinted, due to its scarcity in second hand editions.