Saturday, November 24, 2018

Table D'Hote: Spoilery Review

I am rapidly coming to the end of the Masters & Green mystery series by Douglas Clark. I have just two more left to read on my TBR shelves and seven more titles to hunt for when I'm out and about in the used book shops. I will be sad when I've found and finished the last one. Clark's novels are an interesting take on the police procedural--featuring Superintendent George Masters, Inspector Bill Green, and their specialized team of detectives. Their group gets all the odd, highly technical, and highly sensitive cases. And with Clark's background in the pharmaceutical realm the methods of murder usually focus on obscure medical points or medical conditions that one wouldn't expect to be used to polish off one's enemies.

Table D'Hote (1977) is no different. Wanda Mace has been having an affair with her best friend's husband, Dr. David Bymeres. The two justify their attraction by the fact that they did not start anything until after Daphne had sunk so low in depression that she had lost all interest in physical side of her marriage. As Wanda tells Masters later:

Oh, I know it sounds ludicrous to remind you of it, but Daphne was my friend and the only reason why David came to me was because the woman he had loved dearly could no longer be a wife to him. What I'm trying to say is that I didn't replace Daphne in his affections, only--if Mr. Green will forgive the thought--in his bed, just as he fulfilled a need of mine.

She has reason to defend their actions. Daphne Bymeres winds up dead in Wanda's cottage.

Wanda had invited the Bymeres down for a weekend holiday with dinner party guests on the Friday night. She had arranged with David that he would get an "emergency call" that would take him back to town, leaving Daphne with her. The plan was to create a situation where both Daphne and David would get a much needed rest. Daphne's condition had gotten to such a state that she no longer wanted to go out and about and be social and she needed more care and attention at home. Wanda thought the change to country life would do Daphne good and she definitely thought David deserved a break.

All goes as planned until David receives an authentic emergency call and has to leave the cottage earlier than anticipated. Wanda goes ahead with the dinner party and, as expected, Daphne pleads a headache towards the end of the meal and takes herself off to bed. When Wanda checks in on her the next morning, Daphne is dead--having been very sick beforehand. She calls David to let him know and ask him to come back to the cottage and David calls in his wife's own physician. Although his examination can find nothing to indicate anything but natural causes--the symptoms are most suggestive of some sort of heart trouble, he refuses to give a death certificate. And when the local police surgeon arrives he refuses to give one as well. 

There's nothing for it but to call in the Yard and, since it involves two doctors who won't give a certificate and the wife of a third doctor, it's decided that Masters and company will investigate. The basic question they must answer is: when are natural causes not natural at all? Masters's job isn't made any easier by the fact that he finds himself attracted to the prime suspect--after all, if something unwholesome was given to Daphne, it's most likely that it would have been served up in the meal provided by Wanda. Of course, Masters believes Mrs. Mace to be smarter than that. But is she smart enough to play that as a double bluff? If Daphne was killed and Wanda didn't do it, then it's obvious that David must have arranged it--I mean, suspects aren't exactly thick on the ground. But how could he when he didn't prepare the meal and he wound up absent for the entire dinner party?

********My Take: Major Spoilers Ahead. Read at your own risk!**********

This is another solid entry in the Masters & Green series. The Superintendent and Inspector are still working their way towards the comfortable working relationship found in later installments and it's quite interesting to watch their prickly interactions. It was also interesting to find out how Masters first met his wife, Wanda (so, yeah--she didn't do it). I really enjoy the interesting methods of murder which Clark provides for his villains. That's one of the major selling points for this series--finding out which unconventional murder method will be featured this time.

Which means that quite often the focus is much more on the "how" rather than the "who" or the "why." This is particularly true in this instance. I would be greatly surprised if anyone reading this has any doubts about who the guilty party is from quite early in the book. The how is really the star of the show. But, interesting as that method is, that isn't the spoiler. The most surprising part of this mystery is in the reason (i.e. the woman) why he did it. I quite smugly thought I had spotted the other other woman in the case. It was obvious that David Bymeres was no longer as enthralled with Wanda as he once was. But I really thought that Miss Hector's disapproval of Dr. Bymeres was all for show and that they really had a major thing going on....I was a bit disappointed by Clark's pulling a completely different woman out of thin air. Not a mention of her before. It would have been nice to have at least had a chance to pick the right one.

This was also one of the most cold-blooded murders that Clark has devised. It's really quite horrific that David would plan such a nasty death for his wife and have no qualms at all about the fact that Wanda might be suspected of and (if the police weren't so very good at their job) possibly convicted of the murder. But the murder method and the twists on relationships are a large part of what makes this mystery so enjoyable. ★★★★

[Finished 11/14/18]

1 comment:

fiona said...

I enjoy the Masters & Green series. I am now in re-read mode as I had never read the first 4 but endeavour media has released them (books 1-4) as ebooks so I am now waiting for them to release the rest so I can do a complete re-read.