RogerBW's Blog

The Sunken Sailor, Patricia Moyes 06 April 2020

1961 mystery, second in the series about Chief Inspector Henry Tibbett. Tibbett and his wife join some friends for a week of sailing in Essex. But the accidental drowning a few months ago starts to look less so, especially when it's followed by another.

As a mystery, it works, but it's a bit heavy-handed; I was delayed in my identification of the villain(s) because I found it hard to believe that a mystery story would be so obvious about it. The people are types (most obviously the young woman who has all the men wrapped round her finger, including the married ones) and it's pretty clear roughly what's going on from the start. The feeling of Ellis Peters, the way Modern People are basically Wrong but may eventually manage to sort themselves out, continues from the previous book, in large part in the way a woman automatically assumes that because her husband is friendly with that young woman that he's fallen for her vamping (and indeed is right to do so).

But the process of deduction, of progress from "it's obviously them" to the actual solution, is a pleasing one, even if Moyes feels the need to omit some of the evidence found and statements made by Tibbett. (I tend to feel that the dénouement should follow rapidly on the detective's solution of the case, but here it's rather dragged out by an action scene that feels superfluous.)

But what had seemed to Henry a week ago to be the essence of calm, uncomplicated beauty, now created an atmosphere at once unspeakably sinister and sad, like the painted face of a corpse in an American mortuary parlour. He was briefly surprised at himself for conceiving such an analogy: he had never been to America let alone into a mortician's den. Perhaps they weren't like that at all, in spite of all one read.

There's rather a lot of scene-setting as Tibbett, on holiday again, is gradually drawn into admitting that there is a case here that he'll need to look into before passing it on to the local police. Some of the sluggishness may be because Moyes feels the need to work in lessons on the basics of sailing too: yes, all right, it does have some relevance to the case, but it does make for a fearfully slow start to the book. Once things start moving they get rather better; while one wouldn't mistake this for a top-class mystery it certainly has its enjoyable moments.

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Previous in series: Dead Men Don't Ski | Series: Henry Tibbett | Next in series: Death on the Agenda

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