Thursday, August 10, 2017

Death and the Pleasant Voices

Death and the Pleasant Voices - Mary Fitt

ISBN-10: 0486246035

Mary Fitt was the pen-name of Kathleen Freeman (1897 - 1959), a British classcist. She will bring to mind another British professor – J.I.M. Stewart who wrote as Michael Innes – because, though she employs no jocosely recondite vocabulary, she expects readers to keep up with Latin tags, French idioms, and allusions from Euripedes and Lewis Carroll. Like Cecil Day-Lewis, who wrote mysteries as Nicholas Blake, she was a professor of classics, so her themes are accordingly Greek:  character  is destiny and fate is implacable.

In Death and the Pleasant Voices (1946), she focuses not on plot or puzzle, but, as she said in an interview, on “people, their pleasant or queer or sinister possibilities.” This is apparently the tenth book with her series hero Inspector Mallet, but he does nothing beyond questioning people in preparation for the inquest.  We readers walk along with the main character Jake Seaborne as he haltingly makes his way among members of a family driven by avarice and animosity. They are wrangling over the inheritance of a large country house. None of them admirable, they come off as deceptive and grasping as mean carnies.

The murder does not come until half-way through the book, but this balanced by the detailing for the interplay among the characters for the remainder. They are a pair of twins, who expected to inherit but did not; a poor relation who attended the dying days of the twins’ father; the callous Aunt and cranky Uncle; and finally the family doctor who has a thing for one of the twins and alcohol.

Because of the lack of detection and focus on character instead of the puzzle, I can’t regard this mystery as a paragon of the golden age of mysteries.  The interest lies in the surprising characters. I had to finish it to see where they ended up. In fact, the climax seemed inevitable, like a good Greek tragedy should.

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