I’ve not had much reading time of late, but this is one of the books I managed to read on the train home from the Agatha Christie festival.
‘Theodora Thistleton was not at all popular. Gaunt, rich and embittered, she bullied her secretaries, used her wealth to cause trouble in her family, was rude, sarcastic and ‘in one of her really nasty moons would even go so far as to use bad language.’ Passionately addicted to show jumping, and equally passionately determined to win, she made enemies all around her. ‘I’m sure there are dozens of people queueing up to murder her,’ said one rider. And someone did, in spectacular fashion, at a local horse show. The county police have their hands full with an arsonist; it’s time to call in the Yard. It’s lucky that D.C.I. Flecker’s sergeant is such a fan of show jumping.’
The opening pages of this book strongly reminded me of my, albeit brief, pony club days, so I was not surprised that the author had penned quite a few equestrian themed stories, (although not all mysteries). This is a milieu that the writer is very familiar with and in her cast of characters she depicts the wide range of different types of people involved in pony club events, including the Pratt family, whose children work hard to win as many cash prizes as possible, so their mother can pay her bills.
From the get-go we get some amusing characterisation moments, such as this one:
‘As the prize winners, rosetted and applauded, cantered from the ring, Molly Steer, her nervousness increased by the knowledge that her deodorant had ceased to be effective, blundered into speech.’
The self-doubt and vulnerability were surprising, as you don’t necessarily expect these in a more traditional type of mystery.
Our murder victim though is definitely a familiar type, who early on has her name abbreviated by those around her, to T. T. Her negative effect on her employees, relations and neighbours soon becomes apparent and motives for her demise readily rise to the surface.
A subplot which intertwines with the central mystery is the separation of husband and wife, Marion and Laurence Keswick, the latter of whom is now paying a lot of attention to three-time divorcee Helen Farrell. I found the author’s portrayal of this fractured relationship interesting and the motives for their split. The way it interacts with the murder is also well executed, but I won’t say any more in case I spoil the book.
The murder takes place on the second day of the pony club competition, and I must say this is the first time I have read a mystery involving a poisoned milkshake! The prose is very readable, and the equine milieu feeds into the modus operandi used by the killer. However, I wouldn’t say this is a mystery overburdened with clues. A lot of time can pass between new pieces of information and two important clues rely on visuals, which is less useful to a reader. The solution is a good one but needed a stronger lead up to it.
See also: Moira at Clothes in Books has also reviewed this title here.