Presteignton Hydro had been built in an age when people visited hydropathic establishments more for the sake of fashion than of health.”
That time is long gone and the Hydro is now the residence of the middle-aged or elderly who seek comfort combined with less expense. The genteel group of individuals currently in residence spend their time undergoing treatment of their various ailments and raking over gossip regarding their fellow guests.
Into this setting the young, vibrant Miss Blake strolls languidly, upsetting the status quo with her casual air and backless gowns, attracting the men and upsetting the woman. So is it any wonder that one morning she is found dead, with a knitting needle stuck in the back of her head? Enter Inspector Palk to investigate, and he soon makes an arrest. But then there was a second murder, and a third.
With characters who are class obsessed and delight in gnawing on the latest rumor, Rutland has created a wonderfully eccentric, and slightly sinister set of suspects. There is a haughty aristocratic of humble origins, an author of detective novels and her young son, a neurotic hypochondriac, a crossword addicted Admiral, a sock knitting Colonel, a handsome young baronet, a middle-aged couple and their two teenage daughters, as well as condescending nurses, backbiting housekeepers, various snotty maids, and handsome chauffeurs.
Rutland uses the gossipy nature of the plot to great advantage. Her dialogue is wonderfully snarky, “Some of the frocks she wears under that thing she calls a house-coat are no bigger than vests.” The characterizations are cutting, “Lady Warme sailed in looking, as the Inspector thought, very much like an Elizabethan galleon, for she gave the impression of having sails trimmed and decks cleared for action.” And like the insidious nature of gossip, the increasing viciousness of the murders breeds an ever more menacing atmosphere. Although, I felt this did eventually overshadow much of the sense satire that has been established, and making the story exceedingly dark.
For me, this was a book of three parts. It had a delightful beginning which introduced the characters inhabiting the Hydro, a rather slow middle which followed Inspector Palk’s investigation, and an interesting end which introduced Mr. Winkley, a new resident who’s hobby is crime and who begins his own investigation. While I didn’t thoroughly enjoy reading this one, I do think that the style of Rutland’s writing is interesting. Her characters are brilliantly written and her dialogue often filled with blistering wit. I think that is enough to make me want to read more of her work…of which, sadly, there are only two.
My Ruling – 3.5/5
Prior Judgements – John Norris @ Pretty Sinister Books, The Armchair Sleuth @ crossexamingcrime, The Puzzle Doctor @ In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel, The Moonlight Detective @ Beneath the Stains of Time