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Fear For Miss Betony

Page history last edited by J F Norris 13 years, 4 months ago

Bowers, Dorothy - Fear For Miss Betony (1941)

 

Emma Betony, former schoolteacher, is contacted by an ex-pupil, Grace Aram who is now the headmistress of a girl's school housed in an old nursing home.  Although most of the elderly patients were removed when the building converted to a school, two of the occupants of the nursing home are still residents and one of them is suspected by Grace to be the victim of a murderous plot.  She asks Miss Betony to accept a teaching position at the school and use her free time to help Grace sort out the dastardly doings at the school. There is a fortune teller who dabbles in black magic featured in the plot and the memory of Miss Betony's Aunt Mary hovers over the story in a way that made me think someone eventually would be revealed as her. Bowers' policeman detective Chief Inspector Dan Pardoe turns up in the final three chapters.

 

Bowers is one of the few 1940s era practitioners of the fair play detective novel who might have become the only real competition for Agatha Christie, but her writing career was cut short by her early death due to tuberculosis.  She certainly wrote a lot of books about poison murders and must've had a medical knowledge the way her nurse and doctor characters speak about disease and drugs.

 

The book is literate and cleverly plotted with one of the best uses of misdirection in a detective novel of this era.  I wouldn't call the book "ingenious" (as Tom & Enid Schantz do in their introduciton in the Rue Morgue Press reprint) since the plot motif in question was something Christie herself employed repeatedly as early as the early 1930s. But Bowers nearly fooled me.

 

There are some genuine surprises here. All of the characters are very well drawn, suspicion darts between a handful of them, and the puzzles and mysteries surrounding the odd goings on at the school-cum-nursing-home never fail to keep the reader involved and intrigued.  The book really is fascinatingly well written, engaging from page one to the last word.

 

J F Norris

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