Miss Emma Betony, former schoolteacher, is on the verge of removing to one of the almshouses set aside for “decayed” gentlewomen in the village of Churchway when she receives an urgent request from an ex-pupil, Grace Aram. Grace has taken over an old nursing home and converted it into a girl’s school, to which she is the headmistress. The school is not only struggling to keep its students, but two of the nursing home patients, Miss Thurloe and Miss Wand, are still in residence. To make things worse, Grace fears that Miss Thurloe is being poisoned. Would Miss Betony come, in the guise of part-time tutor, and help her to sort out what is going on before she loses her school? Unable to deny this appeal Miss Betony sets out to uncover the truth.
Dorothy Bowers is an author I discovered many years ago thanks to reprints by Rue Morgue Press, so when I recently received this as a part of my Christmas box from Kate’s Coffee and Crime, I was really happy. F&MB is a reread for me, and is just as good the second time around.
This is quite a good book with a very clever and imaginative plot. Bowers does well diverting the reader by introducing quite a few red herrings and creating an atmosphere of overwhelming fear. The mystery is very well clued, although there is one major clue that, while presented, is very oblique, so may be missed by many readers. If I have any quibbles, it is only that the first two-thirds of the story are build-up in which there are may very interesting events, but little actually happens. That really doesn’t matter though because the last third is worth the wait.
Although I did miss Chief Inspector Dan Pardoe and Detective Sergeant Tommy Salt, who don’t appear until the last three chapters, Bowers creates some very interesting characters. There is the enigmatic Great Ambrosio, a handsome, charismatic fortune-teller; Nona Deakin, the school matron who, as local gossip, is a wealth of information, and Miss Orphen, music teacher and Grace’s secretary, who dabbles in black magic. But the standout is of course Miss Betony, who may look like a timorous relic of a bygone age, but is great deal tougher and sharper than she is given credit for.
A very engaging read that I highly recommend.
My Judgment –4/5
Vintage Mystery Extravaganza – Vintage Mystery Challenge 2013 – Scattergories – # 10 Wicked Women: a book with a woman in the title–either by name or by reference
Calendar of Crime 2020 Reading Challenge – January #6: Original publication month
Murder Mystery Bingo Reading Challenge – Weapon: Poison