RogerBW's Blog

A Six-Letter Word For Death, Patricia Moyes 25 September 2023

1983 mystery, sixteenth in the series about Superintendent Henry Tibbett. Tibbett receives a letter from an obvious crank: a crossword, to which the answers hint at undetected murders. The resolution of that is straightforward enough, but it's only the beginning…

The murder mystery story, of course, is essentially an unrealistic form—but this is Moyes working out how something like it might plausibly happen, while poking fun at her own profession. So obviously we need a gathering of mystery writers…

"The fact remains that your plots are ridiculously elaborate and fanciful. First of all, you maroon a small group of people on an island or in a snowstorm or some such artificial situation. Then you produce clues of whimsical erudition—for instance, all your victims may be ladies named after Shakespearean heroines, so that after the demise of Juliet Jones and Miranda Brown, we may be fairly sure that Portia Smith is in for trouble. And—"

"I've never used that one," said Barbara thoughtfully.

"And finally," Harry went on, "your detective assembles all the suspects and arranges a reenactment of the crime, which unmasks the villain. Can you imagine that happening in real life?"

"It would be interesting to know," remarked Bill Cartwright, "how a real detective would react if he found himself faced with a so-called classic fictional crime."

This time the island is the Isle of Wight, and… well, even to summarise would be to risk spoilers. There's murder, and lots of deception for a variety of reasons, and people who think they're much cleverer than they are. In fact I was rather reminded of the recent film Glass Onion, though in style rather than in specific events.

Tibbett is not officially on the case, and goes well beyond what a civilian ought to do. But justice would not be done any other way.

It's glorious fun. I wouldn't particularly recommend it to someone who's not already a fan of the murder mystery, because some of my enjoyment came from recognising the small parodies of mystery-story conventions that Moyes works into quieter moments, but even without that consideration this is a writer who knows her craft and hits dead on that line between puzzle-game and character-story that for me is a signifier of the best murder mysteries.

I think this may be the best book yet from an author I already regarded as a treasure of the murder mystery genre.

[Buy this at Amazon] and help support the blog.

Previous in series: Angel Death | Series: Henry Tibbett | Next in series: Night Ferry To Death

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