RogerBW's Blog

A Choice of Evils, Elizabeth Ferrars 05 February 2014

Eighth and final book in Ferrars' Andrew Basnett series.

Andrew Basnett is a retired professor of botany who gets accidentally mixed up with murders. This is classic amateur sleuthing, though he usually manages to remain on good terms with the police; in the later books, they've sometimes even heard of him, and have a grudging respect for him.

In this volume, Basnett goes for a relaxing holiday in a small seaside town, but first runs into his writer nephew Peter Dilly, then gets invited to the dinner party of the vastly popular writer Simon Amory with whom Dilly is staying. Amory's a bit of an odd fish, but things really get started when his sister-in-law is found shot, and Peter's both the last person to see her alive and the first to discover the body.

There's a lot of cutting interpersonal observation, reminding me of the way people broke down in The Crime and the Crystal (the third in this series, set in Australia). All the necessary clues are present; I spotted the major plot point not directly identifying the murderer before it was revealed, but had a misapprehension about the identity of the murderer and was pleasantly surprised to be wrong.

The ending is something of an anti-climax: once Basnett has pointed out to the police both his theories and the evidence that will confirm them, the actual search and arrest take place off-stage. Basnett is not, of course, an action hero, nor is he working for the police, but it seems a shame that Ferrars couldn't have contrived to bring him on-stage. This has been a repeated minor problem in the series; like most of the sort of detective fiction I prefer, the stories are essentially logic puzzles rather than character pieces, but I enjoy Ferrars' writing of characters enough that I'd like to have seen her tackle the bluster of the discovered murderer too.

This was written towards the end of Ferrars' life, and there's a certain sense of tiredness, but she knew her stuff and this is still a satisfying story.

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