It is a cold November morning when Mrs Pearce, the caretaker’s wife, discovers blood on the classroom floor at the Morosini Art School. Further investigation by the junior master, John Kent, reveals the corpse behind the screen. The victim is one of the current models, Althea Greville, an older woman who stole many hearts the last time she came to work at the school. The local police soon decide the case is too much for them and Inspector Collier, of Scotland Yard, is called in; aided by his colleague Sergeant Duffield. But who would want to kill an artists’ model? Pressure mounts as further deaths follow, as Collier tries to track down the killer who is prepared to silence any who might endanger them.
Moray provides her story with an interesting backdrop, in the form of an art school, and I enjoyed how it interacted with the wartime setting. It almost seems like the art school becomes something of a war vacuum. Outside of the school the blackout operates and various ‘ghastly old pussies,’ as one student calls them, are rolling up bandages, yet the war itself never makes its way into the school. Whilst many people are contributing to the war effort in the book, one way or another, there are the likes of Morosini painting his rich fiancée. It is an interesting clash of lifestyles and the ending of the book offers a subtle comment on which mode of living should remain.
I didn’t initially warm to Inspector Collier as he seemed rather cold towards those he was questioning. However, I felt this changed as his investigation progressed, aided by the reluctance of many of his suspects and witnesses to cooperate. After all a game of bridge is far more important than answering a policeman’s questions! We spend most of our time with Collier, but Dalton also lets us see things from the angle of other characters such as one of students, Cherry Garth, which I think worked well.
I kept a beady eye out for the killer in this one, feeling proud that I had avoided an obvious trap to suspect one character. However, I failed to identify the guilty party, though I don’t feel quite so bad, as Dalton’s choice of culprit is something of a pulled-out-of-nowhere one; something other reviewers have commented on. The murderer and the motive are all perfectly plausible but choosing a peripheral character to be your criminal does make things a little less satisfying for the reader.
Source: Review Copy (Dean Street Press)