|the British first edition |
of the novel
The murder takes place at a house party given by Crystal Codworthy, Lady Balaclava, at her country estate, which she keeps up like a time capsule in decaying Thirties modern style. (Her late husband, nouveau riche Charlie Codworthy, made a fortune in the toilet business.)
The murder method--Lady Balaclava appears to have been poisoned at her birthday party but no poison is detected in her system--is suitably mysterious. The suspects--her three daughters, Violet, Primrose and Daffodil and their husbands, and her companion-help Dorothy Underwood-Threep--are sufficiently characterized, all of them distinguishable personalities in their own right.
All in all Who Saw Her Die? is a model classic style detective novel, recalling certain works by Agatha Christie, John Dickson Carr and John Street, all of whom were adept fictional poisoners. (The book resembles Christie in another way as well.) To me this is a much stronger example of classic crime fiction than the Catherine Aird novel I reviewed in my last blog post.
It may be as much as 40,000 words longer than the Aird, but to me it reads more smoothly and cogently. There may be a bit too much travelogue for my taste during the side investigative trips to France, Switzerland and the Netherlands by the Tibbetts, but not nearly as much as you get from Freeman Wills Crofts. Indeed, it's a most tidily told tale, complete with an afterword by the author explaining how she came upon the murder method. Highly recommended to lovers of Golden Age mystery.
American mystery critic Anthony Boucher, a great booster of Moyes since her debut in '59, would have loved this one had he lived to read it, I'm sure. The only thing left unexplained, for me, is the British title. I don't really see the urgency of the titular question. I prefer the more prosaic but obviously pertinent Many Deadly Returns, since it's believed in the novel that Lady Balaclava was poisoned by one of her birthday presents from her in-laws: a marzipan cake, champagne and a bouquet of roses. How did she die? would seem to be the more pertinent question in this novel.