Root of All Evil (1984) by Elizabeth X. Ferrars

Ferrars is one of those writers I find myself surprised by, in how long she kept on writing after the golden age era, (however loosely you defined that literary time period to be). Mentally I just don’t place Ferrars as someone who was still working in the 80s. Nevertheless, today I am reviewing one of her titles from that decade, which is being reprinted by Felony and Mayhem, with its release date currently set for the 25th April.

Root of All Evil begins with a phone call. 85-year-old Felicity Silvester decides to invite Professor Andrew Basnett, (aged 70), to stay with her over Easter. Cousin to his long since dead wife, Andrew agrees, and it seems like he won’t be the only visitor, as Felicity’s son, daughter in law and two grown up grandchildren will also be around.

Andrew fears he will have a dull time, but he is soon proved wrong. One evening a police inspector arrives to inform them of a hit and run accident which took place nearby. Why? Well the woman was Margot Weldon, who Felicity sacked several years ago for forging cheques. When the police searched her handbag, they found a letter in which Margot appears to confess to the murder of Felicity. Yet Felicity is very much alive… Added to which Margot was strangled before she was run over.

The following day, Good Friday, a family argument sees Felicity deciding to disown all her relatives and leave all her money to her live-in companion Agnes Cavell. I think every reader knows that Felicity signs her own death warrant when she announces this decision…

Killed in the same manner as Margot the police wonder if the two deaths are linked. An absconded servant and missing jewels throw suspicion strongly in one direction. But is it the right one?

Overall Thoughts

Even though there are a number of familiar tropes within this novel, I found Ferrars wove an unusually structured mystery. The reader can not quickly predict in what direction it is heading, and I think this is partially due to the first death in the book which throws up a lot of questions and muddies the investigative waters for the police when it comes to Felicity’s murder.

Andrew is an engaging amateur sleuth. His short-term memory is sometimes a little ropey, but Ferrars does not over play this element. We don’t suffer an ending in which he goes “If only I had remembered to say….’ in true HIBK fashion. He asks intelligent questions about the information and situations he is presented with and is perfectly capable of making logical conjectures, which chime in with police thoughts. I would say his primary weakness is his tendency to be taken in by others, though this does not create any lasting damage for the case, and in fairness he is only really culpable of taking some statements at face value; statements which the reader is liable to do the same with.

The set of characters is quite interesting, though we get to know some characters more than others. Felicity is good at stealing the spotlight and Andrew sums her up well on the first page of the book when he recalls that: ‘she had been an arrogant woman, charming and entertaining when she felt in the mood to be so, but difficult if she ever felt that her dominance was being challenged.’ Ferrars also utilises her servant characters very effectively in this piece. They very much matter to the plot and their characterisation reflects this.

I had a hunch about the solution, which did prove to be correct. Yet my hunch was only one small part of the whole solution, so I still had much to find out at the end. I felt Ferrars deployed two strands of misdirection very cleverly, which are deceptively simple and certainly had me fooled. So all in all another good read by Ferrars. I look forward to trying more by her soon.

Rating: 4.25/5

Source: Review Copy (Felony and Mayhem)

7 comments

  1. A few of the Ferrarses that I’ve read were from as late as the early 1990s, when she would have been in her eighties. And I have noticed that Virginia and Felix Freer, though ostensibly characters in their mid-forties who are immersed in the contemporary world of the eighties/nineties, seem sometimes to give themselves (and their environment) away as products of a writer whose awareness of the world may have begun to lag behind the times. (The way people in those books talk about sexual mores, for example.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good to know. Though I think she copes with the issue of updating her fictional worlds quite well. There are no awkward moments where she tries to hype and happening, if you know what I mean. Perhaps she instead goes for settings which have a rather timeless quality.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Well I think she is worth one more try. Either your read was a just an anomaly or Ferrar’s writing style just doesn’t work for you. I think her misdirection is simple yet effective – though given how much brainier you are at solving the mysteries you read, you might see through it too easily!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Brainier? No…just much older so I’ve been reading much longer than you. Sometimes it’s enjoyable to come to the solution before the end…because the author has written in a way that lays it out for you, and that’s their goal. Sometimes it’s disappointing, such as Murder to Music where I pegged the murderer and motive immediately…and I know that’s not what was intended 🤨

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  2. I have just finished reading this book and found it quite good and recommend it heartily. I rate it as 4 stars out of 5. My review will appear soon at Goodreads

    Liked by 1 person

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