The Private Face of Murder (1966) by John & Emery Bonett
A group of English expatriates have settled into what is meant to be a pleasant life in the sun in the small Spanish town of Calatrava. They all gather at the Langosta Hotel run by Aubrey de Lemplew and his wife Hope. Or, rather, mostly by Hope. Aubrey was once a great serious stage actor, but two bouts of alcoholism have pretty much put paid to his career. Now, he's resting--and giving bad investment and real estate advice to anybody who's naïve enough to listen. Rupert Huntingdon is a playwright who has made his money through farce and his lovely young wife, Linda, is bored to tears in the small town with no night life to keep her busy. He's too busy to notice that she's looking for someone to liven up her nights. Phoebe and Kenneth Blacksall (and son Kit) are fairly new additions. Ken is a handsome man who catches Linda's attention and who has a hard time resisting temptation--even if it is only just once. Flo and George Seaton are the longest inhabitants of the area--George sees and understands more about Aubrey (and everyone) than he thinks. Martin Vennison and his sister Harriet are the most recent arrivals. If Martin's not careful, Aubrey will talk him into a very unsuitable real estate deal.
Life goes along very placidly on the surface until the day Linda has a deadly car accident. Aubrey makes some insinuating remarks about Kenneth and Linda and then winds up dead himself from a landslide of dirt and rocks. Surely these are both freak accidents--after all, complaints had been made about the instability of the props keeping the the cliffside from tumbling down. But the Spanish police are not completely convinced and Inspector Borges arrives to make sure the accidents really were accidents. He spends his time primarily in conversation with the expatriates and picks up a couple of definite clues. It isn't long before he realizes that behind the polite and friendly public faces there is one private face of murder. But once he knows who the murderer is will he be able to prove it?
Inspector Borges is a quiet, thinking man's detective. While he does find clues that the other police missed (footprints, for instance), most of his detective work is cerebral. He is definitely in the Poirot school--using his own little grey cells to sift through conversations and decide what matters from what he's been told. He thoughtfully considers everything and wants to make certain that he doesn't pin the murders on the most likely suspect just because there are obvious motives.
This is an interesting mystery with a compelling backdrop. There are few suspects, but the Bonetts spread enough red herrings to keep the reader guessing. I did spot the killer, but I didn't figure out how the first murder was managed. The clues were there...I just didn't spot them. Overall, a good weekend read. ★★★ and 1/2.
First line: The flambeaux on the Edwardian portico of the Duke's Theatre threw a decorous glow on the arriving playgoers.
Some will tell me what they think is the truth, some what they would wish it to be. Truth has many faces and it is a human failing to prefer the one which the mirror flatters. (Inspector Borges; p. 113)
Most people know what is right or wrong, but few of us can help making an occasional mistake. (Kenneth Blacksall; p. 159)
Last line: Reaching the wall, he stepped over it and sat down with his back to the sea.
Deaths = 2 (one car accident; one crushed by falling rocks)