The Sunken Sailor (1961) by Patricia Moyes

Source: Review Copy (Felony and Mayhem)

Having thoroughly enjoyed my first Moyes read this year, I have come back for more and it was interesting to read at the start of the book a bit more about Moyes’ life. I’m sure everyone else knows about this already, but Moyes led a fairly unusual life. She lied about her age to join the WAAF during WW2 and became a flight officer and expert in radar. This in turn led to her working on Peter Ustinov’s film on the discovery of radar and she worked for Ustinov for another 8 years afterwards. Her first novel, Dead Men Don’t’ Ski (1959), came about due to Moyes being cooped up after a skiing accident. I can’t say whether she also had an interest in sailing as well, but like this first book, Moyes creates a very realistic sporting milieu.

This book sees Chief Inspector Henry Tibbett and his wife, Emmy, on holiday once more, this time going on a sailing holiday with Rosemary and Alastair Benson for two weeks in Berrybridge Haven. Yet it is not long into this holiday when Henry hears of a recent(ish) death. The corpse is or rather was Peter Rawnsley. His boat got stuck on the sands at Steep Hill. In theory he should have been able to move once again, after the tides had changed. Most of his sailing compatriots were not too far away, in their own boats, as although they were not stuck on the sands they were surrounded by dense fog and could not sail anywhere either. However once the fog has cleared and the tide has turned, Peter is found dead on the sands, having drowned in a few inches of water. It is presumed that he was knocked unconscious by his own boom. But even from this initial story Henry thinks something different has happened and that quite a few things don’t add up. Yet he is torn between getting stuck in with investigating and leaving things well alone. Further death though propels him into detecting, finding that the Benson sailing social circle is far from harmonious, with one woman in particular, causing a lot of trouble in particular amongst the men folk. There is also an additional mystery to solve, the theft of a number of jewels from a local land owner. Nevertheless Tibbett will have his work cut out for him, with both his and Emmy’s lives being put in danger.

Overall Thoughts

Well this was another entertaining episode in the Henry and Emmy Tibbett series. These two characters in particular, are very well drawn; they really do feel like a real couple and little details such as Henry’s concern over having to wear unforgiving and unflattering jeans add to their realism. Moyes recreates life on a boat well, noting the various lack of certain amenities. The opening is perhaps a little dense with sailing information, but this passes after a few pages. The set up for the initial crime is very well thought out, with the fog creating a perfect natural camouflage for the killer.

Furthermore, in keeping with the first novel in the series, Moyes’ narration includes gentle humour, such as in the description of how difficult it is to reach Berrybridge by public transport:

‘Anybody who has ever tried to reach Berrybridge Haven from Liverpool Street Station will endorse this. Connecting trains (you change three times) are carefully timed to miss each other by one minute. The bus that is advertised turns out to run on alternate Sundays only, and the whereabouts of the bus stop is a closely guarded secret.’

Importantly of course, the mystery element of this book is also strong, with lots of clever lies being hidden into the dialogue of the characters, which can be easy to miss. Until the final third of the book the choice of killer is fairly wide, but in the final section of the story, the more thriller(ish) and dramatic change in style, perhaps makes it easier to identify who did it. In fact one of the characters even says that ‘this is just like a rather improbable thriller.’  As with a number of books I have read of late, the solution does require the setting of a trap for the criminal to implicate themselves sufficiently to be arrested. Whilst this might be a little less satisfactory in its manner of obtaining justice, Moyes’ writing style is highly entertaining. Not sure if this continues into later Moyes novel, but in these first two there is a decided preference for dramatic finales.

So overall another fun read by Moyes. She’s definitely a writer to check out if you have not tried her work before.

Rating: 4.25/5

Just the Facts Ma’am (Silver Card): Death by drowning


  1. Fuzzy though my memory may be, I do think this dramatic trap was Moyes’ finale of choice. Tibbett was too modest a character to enjoy the egoism of gathering the suspects in the drawing room. The other interesting thing is that, given that Henry is an inspector, so many of his cases involve a personal connection, like this one, to make room for Emmy as a full-on partner.

    Death on the Agenda is an interesting one because the Tibbetts are having some marital strife.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah that does sound intriguing. In this book Henry does mention a time when their marriage was somewhat rocky, so it would be interesting to see it played out more fully. And yes Henry is no Poirot when it comes to giving explanations at the end, which is probably a good thing, as I don’t think Emmy would have married him if he was liked Poirot!


  2. I am delighted to see the Tibbett books being reprinted at last – Moyes is a very good author indeed, and she is certainly a traditionalist when it comes to providing a good plot. And Henry and Emmy make a delightful couple.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve read several Patricia Moyes books and enjoyed them. Somehow I missed this one though so I’ll have to get a copy. My favorite of those I’ve read is still DEAD MEN DON’T SKI. I like Tibbett but not so crazy about his wife.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for the review – I’m grieving over the fact that neither this nor ‘Dead Men Don’t Ski’ are available on my local Kindle store. 😦 Maybe time to get some paperback copies. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I don’t read Moyes books in a row, they start to annoy me, but they are an occasional treat, and there are plenty of them! I am going to read Dead Men Don’t Ski next after your and others’ reviews, but this one sounds good too. (Shall I look for a picture of Henry in his jeans…?)

    Liked by 1 person

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