Today’s read is from a new to me author, and I imagine it is new to many of my readers too. Marguerite Silverman (1914-2003) only wrote 3 mysteries, the other two being Who Should Have Died? (1948) and 9 Had No Alibi (1951). The only review I found of this title came from Steve who has reviewed many an obscure mystery novel at Mystery*File. Upon investigating Hubin’s Crime Fiction IV, Steve mentions that each of these mysteries contains Chief Inspector Christopher Adrian as the detective, though in today’s read he finds a sleuthing assistant in Helena Goodwin, who is a newly qualified vet. It is due to Steve and his own literary detective work that I further learnt that Silverman was a vet, which explains why she describes her milieu so well. On his blog Steve writes that:
‘Marguerite R Silverman, MRCVS, ACIS, graduated from the Royal Veterinary College in 1935 and spent some time in companion animal practice before the Second World War. She then changed career and developed a successful business in verbatim recording (before the invention of the tape recorder). In 1958, following a holiday visit to Israel during which she had been distressed by the scale of the animal suffering she had seen, she founded the Society for Animal Welfare in Israel. […] In 1986 she approached UFAW about the possibility of SAWI being taken under its wing […] She died peacefully at a nursing home, near her home in Catcott in Somerset, on Friday 5 December 2003, aged 89.’
As the title suggests it is indeed the vet, Reginald Thorpe, who is murdered, poisoned in fact, and unsurprisingly he is a very unlikeable individual. It is at his veterinary practice that Helena is working, and she is quick to realise that Reginald’s wife Christine is not to be outdone in the unpleasantness stakes either. However, one bright spot is their niece Carol, whose inheritance is controlled by her uncle until she is 21. There is also a downtrodden kennel maid called Dora, who is furious at the way her employer treats his patients. Within 24 hours of meeting the Thorpes, Helena describes them as being ‘just like something out of a Dickens book’ to her friend, Christopher Adrian and his wife. With such a detestable victim motives abound and alibis are thin on the ground, but it still takes quite a bit of sleuthing to unravel this mystery.
Given the writer’s experience as a vet, the life of a vet is well depicted here, reminding me of the James Herriot tales. Silverman is particularly good at highlighting the economic vulnerability of newly qualified vets, who have been training for years and struggling to make ends meet as a consequence. Jobs are thin on the ground, so it is easy to see why Helena does not throw in the towel with her employer straight away. The vet milieu also works its way into one of the motives, which I found interesting and bogus patient calls are also put to good use by the guilty party. In addition, the discovery of how the victim was killed also occurs during a veterinary case, though the reader will perhaps not be so surprised by it as Helena and the Chief Inspector are. The matter of fact attitude of Helena during this scene also might belie the author’s veterinary past.
Silverman is careful not to overdo Helena’s role as an amateur sleuth, making sure her character still fulfils her day job. Yet it is through her work that she comes across more information which she then passes on to Chief Inspector Adrian. Thankfully, she is not one of those protagonists who withhold vital information from the police. Nevertheless, the chief Inspector does not confide in Helena straight away, and patiently waits until her alibi has been proven first. Even then he is somewhat cool towards her offer to help: ‘You mean you’ll be a damn nuisance and probably make everything about ten times as muddled as it is already.’ This anxiety is ill-founded though in retrospect.
This is a quick and easy read, and Silverman offers an interesting array of motives to investigate and provides lots of other household intrigues to keep the plot ticking along nicely. I would be more than happy to read another by this writer, though tracking the other books down might not be so easy.