RogerBW's Blog

Black Widower, Patricia Moyes 16 March 2023

1975 mystery, twelfth in the series about Superintendent Henry Tibbett. The ambassador to the US from newly-independent Tampica has an Unsuitable Wife; when she gets horribly drunk at a diplomatic reception, then kills herself, nobody is terribly surprised. But that may not be quite what happened…

There was clearly something in the air, after Ngaio Marsh's Black As He's Painted from 1973, but while there's still a "racism is bad" message here Moyes manages to be rather less condescending than Marsh. The black characters here are simply black people, who have had different experiences from the white people.

The victim is a horrid person, but also rather sad, a neat trick that Moyes pulls off seemingly without effort. Most people seem to benefit from her death, though politics comes into it too, with the question of whether the US will be allowed to retain the naval base it had when the island was British. There's a lot of money to be made if they leave…

The key piece of evidence is something of a classic of detective stories, and I'm surprised to see it this late in the form, but all the clues are fairly given. Tibbett himself doesn't appear until a third of the way into the book, being called in by the ambassador when things start to look complicated, and it feels at times as though he does relatively little actual detecting; but with a background cast like this I'm very happy to go along for the ride.

The settings, first Washington and then Tampica, don't show Tibbett at his best, but his plain common sense brings to mind Father Brown at his most pragmatic.

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Previous in series: The Curious Affair of the Third Dog | Series: Henry Tibbett | Next in series: To Kill a Coconut

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