Who Is Simon Warwick? (1978) by Patricia Moyes
When Lord Charlton's brother and sister-in-law were killed in a London bomb attack during WWII, he wanted nothing to do with his young nephew and arranged for a quiet adoption to an American soldier and his wife. Charlton had felt ill-used by his family when he was young and so, when he made his millions, he determined that none of them would benefit. For years, his will would leave everything to a foundation whose sole purpose was to dispense the funds to suitable charities with a substantial legacy for his secetary as well. Late in life when his doctor tells him that he has little time to live, he repents of his earlier behavior towards his young nephew and decides to leave everything to the young man who was born Simino Warwick. He hopes to live long enough to meet any claimants.
But who is Simon Warwick? Once the will is signed and his attorney, Ambrose Quince, has placed notices in all the important newspapers (both in England and America), Lord Charlton dies. Soon after two claimants (out of all the usual hopefuls) rise to the top. Each hold important documents that give credence to their claim--Simon Finch has letters from the attorney (not Ambrose Quince) who arranged the adoption to his parents, the Finches and the man currently known as Harold Benson has a passport made out to Simon Alexander Warwick, newborn. Quince believes Finch to be the legitimate claimant and is even more sure after a visit to America. But he still has one question that he plans to put to both men. And he decides to meet them both at the same time, in the hopes that the confrontation will help solve the issue.
The meeting never takes place. Simon Finch arrives early for the appointment and is sent by the secretary to wait in the waiting room. Harold Benson arrives and finds Finch dead. Enter Chief Superintendent Henry Tibbett who must decide not only who the murderer is but also who the victim really was. Is Simon Warwick dead and will the inheritance now (as stated under Lord Charlton's will) revert to the terms under the old will? Or is Benson really Warwick and killed in an effort to claim the inheritance? Tibbett keeps saying that Simon Warwick's identity doesn't concern him...but until he knows who Finch really was, he won't know who killed him.
~~~~~Spoiler ahead! read at your own risk~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
This is an unusual mystery in a number of ways. Not least because there are actually two mysteries whodunnit and who was it done to. It isn't often that the identity of the corpse is in such dispute because the victim claimed to be someone that they may or may not have been. Another unusual point is Tibbett's apparent lack of concern about the identity of the victim. He does find out during the course of his investigation but it doesn't seem to be all that important to him. And, finally, the big reveal about who Simon Warwick really is. That is a first for me in all of my mystery reading. And, considering when the book was published, it is also unusual in the way it handles certain issues--issues that are very much a hot topic right now in 2023 (and, quite frankly, are not handled nearly as well by a great many in today's world). It is all made to seem very matter of fact by Tibbett and his wife It certainly would have made for an interesting point of law if Warwick had decided to follow up on the claim.
This is, I think, one of the best mysteries I have read by Moyes. An interesting mystery with an intriguing premise and I appreciated how Emmy Tibbett got involved and managed, in certain ways, to save the day. A quick read with plenty of action once the initial groundwork was laid. ★★★★ and 1/2.
First line: A rainy November night in London.
Last line (of main text--last line of the epilogue is a spoiler): "You know what men are like."
Deaths = 9 (five natural; two bombed in WWII; one plane crash; one strangled)