At six-thirty on a Tuesday evening near the beginning of January Anna Milne was heard by her parlourmaid to say: ‘Damn the man, he’s late!’ At six-forty-five the girl, returning from the errand that had taken her past the open door of the drawing-room, overheard the words: ‘To hell with him, I can’t wait!’ Three minutes later she saw Mrs Milne come out of the drawing-room, pick up the fur coat that had been thrown down on a chair, put it on over the white skirt and knitted jumper she was wearing, pick up the badminton racket leaning against the chair, and go out by the front door. At six-fifty the lights of Mrs Milne’s Bentley flickered past the windows of the house. The parlour-maid, returning to the kitchen, told the cook what she had heard. Until past seven o’clock they discussed the language often used by Mrs Milne. They disapproved of it.
At twenty minutes after midnight a white-faced woman in a fur coat walked into the police station in the village of Chovey.
observations: Elizabeth Ferrars wrote a shedload of murder stories between1940 and her death in 1995 – more than 70 of them. She was well-thought-of among crime story aficionados, but is pretty much unknown or forgotten in the outside world. Her books were good interesting reads, and she had some very good ideas, but perhaps in the end she lacked the spark to catch the imagination and to become as famous as Agatha Christie or Margery Allingham.
This was her first book, and it’s a clever cool story, with something of a surprise at the end. She is starting a series detective, Toby Dyke, who is just a collection of eccentricities and whom she abandoned after a few books. There is the standard scene from novels of the era – a look at the life of a moneyless literary man, living in a ramshackle cottage with a woman to ‘do’ for him. There is a lot of emphasis on the fur coat mentioned above, and some nice other outfits too, plus a look at the dead man’s life via his clothes, and a clue about his suit – ‘I know the trousers he was found in were tweed, and most people don’t wear blue jackets with tweed trousers if they can help it.’ Despite the date, the war couldn’t be said to feature much, except for a woman who is ‘crooked as a swastika’.
The best scene, worthy of Cold Comfort Farm, comes when the detectives find out what it was about Mrs Milne (above) that so shocked her staff, ‘why Martha believes Mrs Milne is a tool of the Evil One, sent to snare her poor sister’. The answer has to do with contraception.
The book is a good period piece, creating a convincing atmosphere: you can see from it why she was popular, but not one of the greats.
The picture, from Vogue, comes to us via Dovima is Devine.