Black Widower (1975) by Patricia Moyes

It has been a while since I have read anything by Patricia Moyes, but Rich’s Crimes of the Century Challenge at his blog Past Offences this month, has given me an opportunity to return to her work. The story begins with the Tampican Embassy holding a reception in Georgetown to open the embassy which has after Tampica’s (a fictional Caribbean island) recently gained independence as a country. The biggest concern for those running the event is the ambassador’s wife, Lady Mavis Ironmonger, whose has a tendency to do embarrassing and inappropriate things during social events, a fear which is unfortunately realised during the reception. Ever swift to act, the embassy’s counsellor, Michael Holder-Watts and his wife deal with the situation quickly, removing Mavis from the party and locking her in her bedroom. Yet when they go to her room once the party is ending, they find her dead, shot in the right temple at close range. People are quick to assume suicide, but the post mortem soon disabuses people of this idea, hinting at foul play instead. Eager to keep the Americans out of the situation the ambassador, Eddie and Tampica’s prime minister plan to officially have a newly made Tampica Inspector lead the case and unofficially have Chief Inspector Henry Tibbett of Scotland Yard in the investigation.


There are a number of motives for killing Mavis. Her inappropriate behaviour made her unpopular with the other embassy inhabitants. For instance she was well-known for her dalliances with other men, one of whom was Michael. Whilst there is more than one loyal embassy worker who is angry at the damage Mavis did to the Eddie’s reputation with her behaviour, causing him to lose out on becoming Tampica’s president. Added into the mix is a group of protestors and a number of political figures who are interested in the naval base negotiations between America and Tampica. A further death seems to resolve the case easily but Tibbett is not entirely convinced, making further discrete investigations. Yet when Tibbett finally arrives at the truth it remains to be seen whether he can catch the killer and provide another death.

Overall Thoughts

On the whole this is a solid mystery with a clever key clue which I failed to spot and the murder method itself has some interesting features. The way of announcing the first death was also done in an effective way. In comparison to Ngaio Marsh’s Black As He’s Painted (1974), Moyes handles the issue of race better and although including racist viewpoints, they are clearly not endorsed. For example when Michael’s wife says ‘“Sir Edward may be only a Tampican, but at least he’s a gentleman!”’ Moyes follows this with the line ‘And, having packed the maximum possible snobbery, bigotry and lack of tact into one short sentence… [she left].’ Michael’s wife is not the only white character to come under censure in the book. However, there are some less clear passages in the book, where Moyes’ handling of race is more ambiguous, such as with the means of apprehending the killer. Moreover, I am still not entirely sure why Moyes went with the title, Black Widower, as yes it may be referring to Eddie, but in that case it seems to be stating the obvious. Whilst if it is meant in a more thematic and more figurative way, it is hard to relate such interpretations to the actual plot and its solution. Nevertheless Moyes has a strong writing style which maintains a good pace and she makes Tibbett’s investigation engaging to follow. Her characterisation is also effective, with her characters being morally complex and hard to define as either “good” or “bad”. Furthermore, the novel ends with an effectively relevant and eerie atmosphere which reveals the triumphant and menacing power of politics combining with business and commerce.

Rating: 4/5

See Also:

Bev at My Reader’s Block: Black Widower


  1. Kate, how very kind of you to link to my review–especially after my comments about the primary clue. Obviously I need to rethink those, because you are anything but dull! It just goes to show how two people can read the same book with very different results. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s always good to have a range of opinions and I think the fact that I had started another book before this one, not really got on with it and generally was just looking for an easy read, made this one more appealing. I imagine if I had read a really good book before this one then I might not have liked it so much. Equally it has been a long time since I have read a Moyes novel so I didn’t have any strong blue prints of what to expect. I see what you mean with the primary clue being mentioned a lot, but I guess I didn’t really think about its significance enough.


  2. It has been a long time since I’ve read this! I went through all of her books at the time. In my memory, I tend to side with Bev on this one. Moyes wasn’t great at “big ideas” kinds of stories, but she sometimes did some great character work. Seasons of Snows and Sins was one of her better written books. I think Down Among the Dead Men was, too, if that’s the one about Emmy Tibbett’s old RAF days. I think her later books, like this one, just grew tired for me.her mysteries were perfectly fine; they just didn’t sparkle for new. (Yes, Kate, I need my mysteries to sparkle!)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Don’t we all Brad? I think the RAF book is Johnny Underground. I agree her earlier work is superior but I think because I haven’t read many of her books and certainly not one after another I don’t have a strong enough sense of what good Moyes is. Equally like I said to Bev I wasn’t feeling particularly chirpy at the time of reading the book and I had already given up on another book, so I think I was quite happy going along with a reasonably good book which didn’t irritate me.


  3. A very enjoyable and instructive review. I have never read any fiction by Patricia Moyes — the 1970s in general are sort of underrepresented on my bookshelves — but I’m always looking for new authors to discover.

    And as a sort of preview reply: I’m very interested to read what you think of James Norman’s Murder, Chop Chop, which is awaiting trial. I found it last summer, and learned in the introduction that the author/journalist taught at Ohio University, where I got my M.F.A. I never managed a book review for it, but found it a worthwhile (if perhaps unsteady) mix of Buchan-like global adventure and comically larger-than-life characterization. All best — JH

    Liked by 1 person

    • If you’re new to Moyes I probably recommend trying one of her earlier novels first. Johnny Underground would be my recommendation. Interesting that you have read Norman’s novel also. An action focused book was something I was expecting, but I am interested to see how the Chinese assistant is portrayed.


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