Thursday, March 26, 2015

Malice Domestic: Review

Malice Domestic (1962) is the second book in the Antony Maitland series by Sara Woods. Woods is the most recognized pseudonym of Lana Hutton Bowen-Judd (March 1922-1985), a British mystery writer who also wrote under the names Anne Burton, Mary Challis, and Margaret Leek. Her series character Maitland is a English barrister who, more often than not, plays detective to ferret out details that will allow his uncle, Sir Nicholas Harding, Q.C., to more ably defend the (obviously) innocent clients that Maitland convinces him to represent.

This time Maitland wants his uncle to defend Paul Herron against a charge of murder (and attempted murder). The Cassell family has more than its share of twins. Paul and Timothy are one set and their Grandfather Ambrose  and Great-Uncle William are another. William has been living abroad for almost twenty years and returns to the family home just in time to be shot and killed in Ambrose's study. Paul is caught red-handed outside the room with the gun in his hands and a bewildered look on his face. 

Ambrose, who takes the family name and standing seriously, would like his grandson to plead insanity--because madness is somehow easier to swallow than cold-blooded murder. There had long been bad blood between Ambrose and his grandsons and he's quite sure that Paul mistook his identical twin for the grandfather with whom he'd argued one too many times. Paul insists that he had been sleepwalking and woke up with the gun at his feet--picking it up without thinking. When Maitland hears the details, he becomes certain that Paul is innocent and assures his uncle that he'll be able to defend the young man on a "not guilty" plea. Now Antony has to put his money where his mouth is and dig up proof that someone else fired the deadly shot. The proof just might be in the closet with the family skeletons and no one, not even Paul, wants Maitland rattling those bones. Even if an innocent man has to hang for it....

Malice Domestic provides an interesting question for the armchair detective to consider as he reads--who was the intended victim? Everyone in the family except Paul had met Uncle William and knew that he and Ambrose were identical twins--so it would seem that only Paul could have killed William in mistake for his brother. But was the killer so used to seeing Ambrose at the desk in the study that they simply assumed that was who was seated there? Or could there possibly be a reason to kill a man who hadn't set foot in England for twenty years and someone is counting on the assumption of mistaken identity?

Maitland makes for a determined detective. He doesn't mind ruffling feathers in his search for evidence to prove the client's innocence. His relationship with his uncle is amusing. Despite Sir Nicholas's bluster and complaints about Maitland's methods, it's obvious that there is great affection between the two. Characterization is not Woods's strongest point, but she does very well with these main characters and her plotting balances out any deficiencies in character development. An enjoyable entry in a series I've neglected for too long. ★★

This fulfills the "Set in US/England Square on the Sliver Vintage Bingo card.


fredamans said...

Haven't heard of this author in any of their names... lol... Sounds like solid reading! Great review!

Anonymous said...

Thanks Bev, like you, I've been meaning to try these for decades but have never quite done it. I'd look to, especially for its legal background which i always enjoy

Bev Hankins said...

Sergio: I've read about 3 or 4 of these (out of over 40!). I kept meaning to come back to them--there are several more on my TBR pile--and just never did.