RogerBW's Blog

Designs on Life, Elizabeth Ferrars 17 April 2023

1980 collection of short stories (written between 1940 and 1980) with murder as a theme.

But not mystery stories, which is what I've otherwise read from Ferrars; there may be some element of working out what's going on in a situation, but mostly these are suspense stories, often in which a murder goes awry because of one tiny error.

"The Dreadful Bell": woman with a leg in plaster is stuck in a top floor flat in Edinburgh. The batty old neighbour seems nice enough, but is her husband up to something?

"After Death the Deluge": the water tank bursts in a shared house, but who's trying to cover up what's going on?

"The Truthful Witness": child innocently sees a thing she shouldn't.

"Go, Lovely Rose": a nutter did it, but we know that up front. Mostly it's how he gets caught.

It disgusted him to discover that all her little kindnesses to him had simply been little kindnesses that had come from the warmth of her heart and not from any desire to take possession of him.

"Drawn into Error": a neat way of establishing an alibi.

"Safety": from the days when non-safety matches were a thing.

"A Very Small Thing": a murder victim manages to confound the plot.

"Scatter His Ashes": a woman recalls her father's murder. I think this is the best of them, with some really interesting exploration of character.

"Undue Influence": woman goes to her daughter's to convalesce after an accident, but comes to realise she's being cut off from all other contact.

Some of these are pretty grim, and there are the usual Ferrars nervy women and feckless men, each constantly trying to trap the other into marriage; but the last two stories in particular are sublime, and the collection would be worth reading for them alone.

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