Friday’s Forgotten Book: Dead March in Three Keys (1940) by Peter Curtis

This is a new to me author, who was actually better known under her real name Norah Lofts, as she used this name to write her historical fiction. It seems the Curtis penname was used to prevent market confusion, though later reprints of her Curtis titles have used the Lofts name. She only published three other titles under the Curtis pseudonym; You’re Best Alone (1943), Lady Living Alone (1945) and The Devil’s Own (1960). As well as the author using more than one name, the book under review today also had more than one name; three in fact. The title of my copy was its original UK title, whilst in the US it was published as No Question of Murder in 1959 by Doubleday. Later in 1975 it was printed again in America, but under the name of Bride of Moat House.

Dead March in Three Keys is presumably entitled as such, due to the three narrators of the book. Emma Plume who is Diana Curwen’s nanny opens the book, though returns later in the tale. At the start of the story, Plume is dismissed by her employers by post, due to the decision to get their child a governess instead. It is through Plume that we learn about Diana’s parents, including her invalided mother and their move to a new house; information which she passes onto the new governess, who is taking the child to the new place. There are also the first hints of Diana’s father having had an affair with his wife’s cousin.  From there Richard Curwen, Diana’s father, takes over the story and his narrative very much confirms the inverted nature of this story. He provides the backstory on how and why he married Eloise and also about his continued devotion to her cousin. Of course, events reach a breaking point and at last he decides to act… The remaining narrative reveals one different narrator, of Eloise’s cousin and these final sections of the book go on to show how everything will pan out for everyone.

Overall Thoughts

I wouldn’t say this is the most surprising of stories. Readers can pretty much see which way things are heading after Plume’s first entry into the narrative and most of these suspicions are then confirmed by Richard. As well as keeping this book relatively short, I think what redeems this book significantly is that Curtis is a strong storyteller, a gift which can make a simple tale that much more interesting. The use of multiple narrators is an important part of this, as each voice is a distinctive one and lends a particular slant on another person or situation. Perhaps the only nit-picking comment you could express about these narrators is that there is no reason given for why these narrators are providing a retrospective account of matters. But in the main this is not an issue which mars your reading of the book. There are a couple of twists in the story which are intriguing, though one, whilst ironically pleasing, perhaps stretches plausibility a smidge too far. I don’t think I will be rushing with all due haste to find others by Curtis. But if another one comes my way, at a reasonable price, I feel I would probably give her a further try, since there is potential there and she does provide an undemanding but enjoyable read.

Rating: 4/5

Just the Facts Ma’am (Gold Card): Inverted Mystery

Calendar of Crime: February (9) Couple/ Romance/ Love Triangle has a major role

13 comments

      • I have indeed. I’ve just checked in THE BOOK, where I see I gave it an entry. (And, I see, at the time I was aware of the Curtis/Lofts connection; clearly something I later forgot!) As I read the entry, the movie came back pretty vividly to mind: it helped that it stars Elizabeth Sellars, of whom I’m a major fan! It’s well worth a look, if you come across it.

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