Postscript to Poison
“Do you think it’s a secret that you are slowly poisoning Mrs Lackland?”
When Dr Tom Faithful received the third anonymous letter, he knew it was time to call the police. His wealthy patient, Cornelia Lackland, was recovering steadily from a serious illness, diligently cared for by the doctor, family members and her household staff. But something is amiss in Minsterbridge. Mrs Lackland rules her house with an iron fist, keeping granddaughters Jenny and Carol as virtual prisoners and bullying her attendant Emily Bullen. Scornful and dismissive of everyone, she is planning to make one final change to her will. But before she can meet her solicitor Cornelia Lackland is dead, the apparent victim of a poisoner. Chief Inspector Dan Pardoe of Scotland Yard is called in to investigate an ever-growing list of suspects.
In Postscript to Poison, Bower introduces us to Chief Inspector Dan Pardoe of Scotland Yard and his colleague Sergeant Salt, who investigate the death of elderly Cornelia Lackland. The haughty and malicious widow of a wealthy man, she had made the lives of his granddaughters miserable. Before her death, the town doctor had received anonymous letters accusing him of poisoning her. But as Pardoe and Salt investigate, they find motives for murder much broader than first anticipated. This is a town where everybody’s business is known by everyone else. Pardoe is a satisfying and likeable creation, described by Milward Kennedy, crime writer and Sunday Times reviewer, as having ‘humanity and common sense as impressive as his intelligence’.
Postscript to Poison was Dorothy Bower’s first novel, originally published in 1938. It delighted reviewers. Critic Maurice Richardson of The Observer wrote, ‘Miss Bowers is new this term. Let me be the first member of the staff to extend her a hearty welcome. She has been coached in our traditions, and is likely to settle down quickly. Postscript to Poison is a thoroughly satisfying piece of family narcotising-… A double bluff by Miss Bowers effectively conceals who did it. This pupil has little to learn and should go far.’
Bowers was an advocate of the ‘fair play’ school of detective novels, and displayed great ingenuity in piecing together the necessary elements of a baffling mystery, with clues shared freely with the reader. When Inspector Pardoe indicates he knows who the murderer is, the reader knows virtually everything he does. Bower’s skill in obscuring her characters motives allows her to hide the identity of the murderer until exactly the right moment. However, what raises Bowers above contemporary fair play plodders is the perceptive description of her characters, no matter how small, and a keen eye for place unusual in a genre dominated by plot.
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