Gone West (2012) by Carola Dunn
It's been a long time since Daisy Fletcher (née Dalrymple) has seen Sybil Sutherby. Sybil (then Richland) was a year ahead Daisy at school and the two weren't close friends. So, when a letter arrives saying that Sybil will be in London and would like to meet up with Daisy for lunch or tea, Daisy is both puzzled and intrigued. Fellow classmate and Daisy's best friend Lucy (alias Lady Gerald Bincombe) is sure that Sybil only wants to renew the acquaintance because of Daisy's fame as a writer of magazine articles. Over lunch, it becomes apparent that writing isn't on Sybil's mind--at least not Daisy's writing. She wants Daisy to indulge in her other interest...mystery & mayhem...and come to the country house where Sybil works as a secretary to Humphrey Birtwhistle (aka Eli Hawke, author of Western novels).
When Humphrey came down with pneumonia about three years ago, Sybil became more than a secretary. Humphrey was too sick to meet the deadline for the latest Hawke book and so she heavily edited what was done and ghost-wrote the rest. The editor noticed differences in the style and wasn't too pleased...until sales took off. It seems the reading public really like Hawke's new way with words. Since then, Humphrey has been ailing--he has a few good days, but then immediately relapses in weakness and tiredness. The doctor can't understand it and Sybil suspects that someone in the family is doping the elderly man so Sybil will keep writing and the extra money from the heightened sales will keep rolling in. She hopes she's wrong and, so, she hopes Daisy will come, investigate, and tell her she's imagining things.
Except she's not. Before Daisy can really get to know the people at Eyrie Farm, Humphrey is dead from a hefty dose of chloral hydrate and everyone is under suspicion. Daisy was supposed to be "under cover"--just an old school friend of Sybil's and no one was supposed to know she was married to an inspector from Scotland Yard. But Sybil couldn't keep the secret from the doctor (who seems to be sweet on her...and vice versa) and he immediately asks the local constabulary to call up the Yard and ask for Inspector Fletcher. Alec Fletcher is none too pleased to find his wife mixed up in yet another murder...
It's also been a long time since I visited with Daisy--long before I began blogging and quite possibly 20 years or so. She's a very likeable character and the time period is definitely one of my favorites. Of course, these are cozy mysteries and I read them more for character, setting, and comfort than for intricate puzzle plots, but this one seems a little lighter than usual. I spotted the villain of the piece right away, but I can't say I'm sold on the motive. It's similar to that of another character--but I'd have to say the motive makes more sense for that character than the actual perpetrator. And speaking of character...few of the characters (beyond Sybil and Daisy) are really likeable. Humphrey's wife Ruby is pretty okay and his son Simon has his moments, but his brother and sister are a nasty pair. They resent Humphrey's return from the States to claim his share of the inheritance, but don't mind when Humphrey's book sales boost the style of living (two maids to help out around the house!). Myra, Humphrey's niece would be better if she were written consistently, but she veers from apparent air-headed flapper interested only in when her next quarter's allowance is due to kind and compassionate when Ruby needs her and back again with surprising speed. It was difficult find anyone to root for (innocence-wise) and one really wouldn't have minded if any one of them wound up guilty. ★★★
First line: The approach was not inviting.
Last line: "Darling," said Daisy, "you know very well, that's a promise I can't possibly make!"
Deaths = 2 (one poisoned; one influenza)