on 12 March 2002
There's a classic piece of advice to would-be authors that goes: "Start out by writing about things you already know about", and it seems that this approach can have benefits for more practised authors as well.
The first part of the book - in which Mrs Malory is asked to become the literary executor of a close friend/best selling author who dies under mildly mysterious circumstances - absolutely crackles with authenticity and pace, and is surely based on Hazel Holt's own experience of acting as literary executor and biographer to English novelist Barbara Pym. (Ms Pym, I hasten to add, did NOT die under mysterious circumstances of any kind!)
As the book approaches its halfway point this initial focus shifts slightly and the pace becomes somewhat more relaxed. Indeed, it almost seems - for a page or two - as though the author is running out of steam.
At this point Ms Holt elegently drops a bombshell into the proceedings, a bombshell which, it now turns out, she has been subtly preparing us for over the previous 20-30 pages.
There are more such finely calculated surprises to come, and the second half of the book revolves around an excellent development of the previously established plot lines in which - after the fashion of premier thriller-writer Robert Ludlam - nothing and no-one is quite what/who they appear to be.
The final revelation of the killer is managed in true Malory style, sitting round a kitchen table. It is done quietly, even discretely, and above all, the denoument makes sense.
If I had to offer a criticism it would be that Ms Holt gives little opportunity for the reader to come to their own idea as to "who dunnit".
For example, Mrs Malory's final unravelling of the mystery depends on two key pieces of evidence. Of the two, one is never shown to the reader, whilst the second is (so far as I can tell) deliberately mis-described.
(To be fair, this mis-direction is actually essential to the plotting, and an accurate description would have given the game away quite some time before the formal solving of the puzzle.)
Anyway, this one qualification apart, and much as I've enjoyed all of the *previous* books in the series, this is without doubt the best Sheila Malory mystery to date. Easily worthy of a five star rating.
on 19 October 2003
I think no review of this particular book can be complete without mentioning the love interest.
Aunt Hilda, veteran of Bletchley Park, severe and unloving, who turned down a wartime suitor who was parachuted into France and never returned, falls madly in love in this book.
I actually found the comments about the power of love at the end of the book quite moving.