Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Fennister Affair: Review

The Fennister Affair (1969) by Josephine Bell takes her readers on a mysterious Caribbean cruise.

Sally Combes has just finished a temporary job for her Uncle Oswald in Bermuda. He rewards her with a Caribbean cruise with stops at various nearby islands before she must head home to England. The night before the Selena arrives in Bermuda to pick up Sally and other new passengers a woman disappears from the ship. It is presumed that she fell overboard and has been lost at sea. Her bereaved husband leaves the ship and Sally finds herself upgraded from a small single-occupancy cabin to the spacious double previously occupied by the unfortunate couple. She's determined not to let the tragedy influence her vacation but she has little control over future events.

Her first night at sea, she discovers a portion of a letter hidden in a book in the dressing table. It has every appearance of a suicide note

I cannot bear it any longer. If you love her more than me you must want to be rid of me. I won't stand in your way my darling. I will simply disappear. Felicity.

and it's signed Felicity. Felicity Fennister--the woman who had, indeed, disappeared. Felicity soon joins forces with Tim Rogers, an appealing newspaperman hot on the trail of several stories onboard, and Mrs. Fairbrother, an elderly woman who seems to have her fingers on the gossipy pulse of the ship.

There are many questions that need answering before Sally, Tim, and Mrs. Fairbrother will unravel the mystery. Why are certain passengers behaving so strangely? Who was on deck the night Felicity disappeared? Why are the ship's officers so secretive and why aren't they more interested in investigating the disappearance?  Why does Conchita, Felicity's stewardess, keep leaving the ship (at various ports) and then returning? Who was the shadowy figure on the bridge with the captain? Can the ship's captain be trusted? And who put the poison in Tim's drink? Somebody doesn't want the inquisitive journalist asking any more questions. But not even a near-fatal poisoning can keep our heroines and hero from getting at the truth.

Josephine Bell provides a decent closed circle mystery. Cruise ships provide a similar setting to the country house which becomes isolated due to inclement weather. There are a limited number of suspects and there's only so many places to hide on board a ship. If she had stuck with her first-line plot (the missing Felicity Fennister) and devoted her mystery-making skills to developing it fully, this might have been a first-rate detective novel. However, there is a sinister sub-plot that takes up more time than necessary and which pushes the book towards the adventure/thriller end of the spectrum. Still--a solid offering and while the solution to the primary mystery is dangled rather obviously before the reader one might not (as I did not) figure out all the details. Entertaining. ★★★

[finished on 4/28/17]

This fulfills the "Blonde" category on the Silver Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.

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