Saturday, May 4, 2013

A Choice of Evils: Review

Choice of Evils by E. X. Ferrars is one of those nice cozy little academic mysteries that I love so much. In this case, the academic is retired botany professor Andrew Basnett--who just has a knack for getting mixed up in matters of murder.  In his eighth outing, Professor Basnett has finally wrapped up his biography of Robert Hooke (a project that he's been working on for quite some time) and he decides to treat himself to a holiday in the seaside village of Gallmouth.  Basnett and his late wife had taken several pleasant trips to the quiet village and he returned there periodically when he felt in need of a rest.

While there, he meets up with his nephew, Peter Dilly.  Peter is a successful author of science fiction stories and has been invited to participate in Gallworth's first-ever arts festival and speak on a panel of authors.  Simon Amory, another successful novelist who lives in Gallworth, is hosting Peter during the festival weekend and invites Basnett to dinner when he learns that his guest's uncle is staying in the village as well.  At dinner Peter and Andrew are introduced to Mina Todhunter, a children's author who will join Simon and Peter on the panel, Simon's sister-in-law Rachel Rayne, and Edward Clarke, the chair of the festival committee.

After dinner, they all head to the local theater for the panel discussion and beforehand Simon Amory is confronted by Magda Braile, obviously an old flame and the star of the festival's production of The Duchess of Malfi.  There is much tension in the air, but the panel discussion is successful and the evening seems to have gone well.  The only odd note is that Rachel disappears from the gathering afterward and is later spied by Peter sneaking out of the summer house on Amory's grounds (the summer house serves as Amory's work area for his writing).

The next day Rachel seeks advice from both Mina Todhunter and the professor, but neither of them give her much attention.  Before the day is over, Rachel is discovered shot to death in the summerhouse....and things look a bit black for Andrew's nephew.  Peter was the last one to see Rachel alive and he's also the one who discovers her body.  He immediately calls on his uncle to come and lend support because after all, Andrew's "had experience with this sort of thing. [He's] helped the police before. There was that affair of the dinner where the man got poisoned with cyanide, and the time the QC man got blown up by a bomb."

Andrew does get interested (and not just on his nephew's behalf) and soon he's discovering a web of bigamy, blackmail, lies, and fraud...and another murder is committed.  This time the victim is Magda.  But where exactly does the finger of accusation point?  To Amory who may not have claim to his wife's property after all?  To Desmond Nicholl, the husband of Magda Braile, who may have had reason to kill his wife?  Or to someone else?

This was a reread for me.  It had been long enough since I read it the first time that while I met certain passages and scenes with quick recognition, I still was sure enough of the ground to spot the culprit right away.  The Professor Basnett mysteries comfortable cozies that satisfy the mystery reader without a lot of blood and gore or psychological thrills and tension.  Believable characters and an interesting twist on the blackmail scheme make for a good solid three star reread.  It's possible I would have given it four stars the first time 'round--but for some inexplicable reason I don't have a record of my initial reaction (not even the star rating that I normally would have).


Anonymous said...

Not an author I was aware of, Bev, so thanks for the recommendation. Is there any particular book in the series that you'd recommend as a start point, or should I just read them in order?

Bev Hankins said...

I came to these on a hap-hazard basis--it was all dependent on what the library where I was had at the time. So--I'd say read them in order if you can, but there isn't anything about the stories that makes it absolutely essential. Later books will mention earlier mysteries, but without spoilers.

She has written two other series (Toby Dyke AND Virginia & Felix Freer) and a lot of stand-alone books as well. I've not come across any of the Toby Dyke books yet. The Freer books are okay, but I prefer Professor Basnett. The stand-alones that I've read have been good as well.

Ryan said...

I'm really liking the sound of this one.

The worst part of bloggin for me has always been this exposure to so many books I want to read, but never seem to have the time to do so.