A Talent for Murder (1942) by Anna Mary Wells

Wells may not have written many novels, in fact she only wrote three other mystery novels: Murderer’s Choice (1943), Sin of Angels (1948) and The Night of May Third (1956), but she did in my opinion know how to write memorably. I first came across Wells last year when Bev at My Reader’s Block reviewed Wells’ second mystery and it was this review which put today’s read on my radar. Incidentally John at Pretty Sinister has also reviewed Wells’ second novel as well, so plenty of different opinions on Wells to go at.

The story begins with psychiatrist, Dr Hillis Owen, not being keen on taking up a new patient called Doris Meredith. She has recently been acquitted of her husband’s murder, yet she is confused over whether she did the deed or not, her mind having two versions of events. A part of her need to know one way or another is because of her young daughter, as she wishes to know if she is fit to be a parent. The sessions which follow mostly take place off the page, except the final one, which is important in more ways than one. Unable to reveal any suppressed memories, Owen discharges his patient, yet his assistant and office nurse, Grace Pomeroy, urges him to resolve the mystery by investigating the original murder. Whilst Owen leaps into this decision head first, influenced by his growing love for Meredith, an additional difficulty comes when Meredith’s in-laws want to legally adopt her daughter. Unsurprisingly Owen’s resurrection of the case, aided by Pomeroy, stirs up a lot of trouble, not only for the mistress of Meredith’s spouse, but for everyone else involved: placing Meredith and Owen in danger especially.

Overall Thoughts

As I said earlier Wells certainly knows how to write memorable plots. Now on the surface what I’ve shared about the plot may not seem so extraordinary, but for me this is a plot with many narrative strands and two of these at the mid-way point are complete game changers, raising up the tension and excitement levels with some unexpected but fitting twists. Suffice to say my reading speed certainly cranked up a few notches. There are quite few different characters investigating this case in different ways, but in the main our attention focuses on Owen and Pomeroy. Whilst Owen is no Perry Mason, Pomeroy does have a slight Della Street feel to her at the start of the novel and I enjoyed how she was the initial driving force for the amateur sleuthing. I equally enjoyed how these two are not from the “Great Detective” tradition. They are first timers, so indeed make novice mistakes, perhaps not playing their hands as well as they could do when it comes to tackling suspects.

All in all right up until the end this was a difficult book to fault. There was so much for me to love. The plot developments certainly won many brownie points and the characters really drew me in. Yet again, as with Conyth Little’s The Black Express (1945), a hasty rushed ending mars the conclusion, which is always more upsetting because the rest of the book was so brilliant. Wells unfortunately comes across ham-fisted in the way she resolves the mid-way twists and whilst the culprit was a surprise, it was a dissatisfying one. The ending had all the bad elements of a thriller and Owen keeps far too much information up his sleeve. So in a way I don’t know whether to recommend this book or not. Do I wish other readers to have their hopes sufficiently raised only to have them crushed by a less than ideal ending? Copies are not too ridiculously priced, but I would probably recommend trying Murderer’s Choice, which based on the reviews I’ve read might be the stronger of the two.

Rating: 4.25/5

Just the Facts Ma’am (Silver Card): In the Medical Field

10 comments

  1. Thanks for the link to my post, Kate. Wells wrote at least one more crime novel. I have it at home but can’t remember the title. Oddly though she is American her later books were only published in the UK. According to several online library sources she wrote The Sin of Angels and The Night of May the Third (both published in the 1950s) and they might also be crime novels judging by the publishers. Maybe one of those is the book I own.

    I know most of the vintage crime fiction bloggers rely heavily on the GA Detection wiki for information on writer’s books, but it is truly a poor source for bibliographies. So much data is wrong or out of chronology. This is due in large part to over half of the data having been cut and pasted from Wikipedia articles. You ought to invest in a copy of Hubin’s Crime Fiction Bibliography. You do so much writing on this period and Hubin is essential as a reference for an crime writer’s entire output and the proper dates of all editions.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for the advice and based on your info and Santosh’s I’ve modified my post. What edition of Hubin are you recommending as there seem to be quite a few online? I will keep my eyes peeled for a cheap copy anyways, as prices do seem to vary. I do have The Oxford Companion to Crime and Mystery Writing, but it doesn’t tend to have info on less well known authors.

      Like

  2. Based on your review I bought this and have now finished. I enjoyed it a lot, so thanks for leading me to a new author. I think I enjoyed the ending more than you did but I’m not a stickler for logical endings if the rest of the book is entertaining.

    Liked by 1 person

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