Friday, April 7, 2017

I Could Murder Her: Review

Muriel Farrington is an updated, 1951 version of Cinderella's nasty stepmother. Except she doesn't limit her nasty behavior to her stepdaughter, Madge. While she does expect Madge to toil in true Cinderella fashion--cooking, cleaning, and general housekeeping drudgery, she also dominates her own children and behaves in a thoroughly selfish manner. In fact, her behavior has practically the whole household muttering I Could Murder Her. The only person in E. C. R. Lorac's mystery novel (originally published as Murder of a Martinet in Britain) who doesn't seem to want her dead is her mild-mannered, thoroughly devoted husband. And only one person actually makes the action suit the muttering.

After a particularly tiring morning of exerting her will over Madge, Muriel takes to her bed with "heart palpitations," demands attention from the elderly doctor who dances attendance whenever she has a "turn," and winds up under the influence of a sleeping pill. The next morning finds her dead. It's a bit of shock--no one but her husband actually believed she actually had trouble with her heart--but everyone is now prepared to accept that she did and succumbed to it.

Unfortunately for the murderer, Dr. Baring had a motoring accident on the way home from the Farrington's and is in no condition to examine the deceased and provide the anticipated no-questions-asked death certificate. Baring's young colleague, Dr. Scott, who had examined Muriel once, also did not believe there was a thing wrong with her heart. He doesn't accept that as a cause of death--particularly when he spots a fresh hypodermic puncture in the dead woman's arm. He refuses to sign the certificate and that calls for a postmortem which reveals that the deceased fell victim to a dose of insulin (and she wasn't diabetic).

Enter Inspector MacDonald of the Yard. MacDonald is a quiet, normal detective who sets to work smoothly and efficiently. None of the eccentricities of some Golden Age detectives and none of the angst and personal issues of many modern policemen. Just an intelligent man doing his job. He quickly discovers that everyone had a motive--from the overworked Madge to Muriel's own children who all resented their mother's interference in and domination over their own lives to Mrs. Pinks, the daily help. Madge, who has been employed as a nurse in the past, is an obvious suspect since she would know the effects of insulin upon a non-diabetic. But most of the suspects seem to be just as well-informed. Even Mrs. Pinks--whose husband is a diabetic.

This is a very interesting study of post-War Britain. It focuses on the reduced circumstances that followed and shows how families who formerly would have had several servants were forced to make do with daily women and sometimes had to do for themselves (or guilted their less fortunate relations into slaving away...). It also spotlights the tensions found when family members who don't care for one another are forced to live in close proximity due to those reduced circumstances. Life would have been much healthier for the Farringtons if all of the adult children (and spouses) could have afforded homes of their own. But then we wouldn't have a murder to solve, would we? 

I thoroughly enjoy Lorac's character studies and descriptions of the post-War era. MacDonald may not be a charismatic detective, but he is a thorough one who misses nothing and keeps no clues to himself. The reader can easily follow the thread that leads to culprit (and may, in fact, spot the killer before all is revealed). It is more interesting to watch MacDonald gather up all the loose ends and explain them all. Quite good vintage mystery. ★★★★

Fulfills the "Broken Object" category on the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt card. For the record...I don't recall any broken object in the story line that ought to be appearing on the cover.


Kate said...

Great review Bev. Only read one novel by Lorac, so I have been meaning to give her another go. Thanks for the reminder!

Bev Hankins said...

Kate, I really enjoy Lorac. She's really good with her characters.

The Book Sage said...

I don't typically go for old-school, hard-boiled mysteries. But this does sound pretty good.

Bev Hankins said...

The Book Sage: I wouldn't actually label this as a hard-boiled mystery. I don't care much for those myself.