Rosemary Barton committed suicide a year ago in the middle of her birthday party.
But her widower George is no longer satisfied with that verdict and plans to recreate the evening again – ostensibly to celebrate Rosemary’s sister’s birthday – but in reality to trap a killer.
The returning Colonel Race should have been at the first party and wants nothing to do with the second one but he is forced to lend a hand when events take an unexpected turn.
The book has a structure that is reminiscent of Five Little Pigs as we begin with the recollections of six people of the fatal night a year ago before we come into the present and see the fallout from George Barton’s scheme.
It is nice to see Colonel Race come into his own in his final appearance and there are some nice touches but overall there is a big thing (see Spoilers) that lets this one down.
Recurring character development
He smokes a pipe.
Is now over 60
Knew two schoolgirls who committed murder.
Has worked for both MI5 and the Counter-Espionage Department.
Has worked with Chief Inspector Kemp before.
When a Major met General Lord Woodworth in Badderpore in 1923.
Met Mary Rees-Talbot in Allahabad.
Signs of the Times
The second of November is a Thursday which, coupled with Race’s age, places the story in 1950, five years’ after the date of publication, but as it is clearly set pre-WWII, there is a continuity error that needs ironing out somewhere.
The quote at the start of Book I is the start of a poem by John Keats, that at the start of Book II from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”, and that at the start of Book III from Tennyson’s poem “Crossed Hands and Closed Eyes”.
Anthony references a historical Anthony Browne who was chamberlain to Henry VIII. Browne (1500 – 1548) was Master of the Horse. Amongst many other things he travelled with Henry to meet Anne of Cleves and was sent to see her before the king. He came out “lamenting in his heart to see the Lady so far unlike that which was reported”.
Rosemary has heard that Anthony Browne also goes by the name of Tony Morelli. Tony Morell/Antonio Morelli is a character in The Seat of the Scornful by John Dickson Carr which was published four years earlier.
Stephen Farraday was a member of the O.U.D.S. which is the Oxford University Dramatic Society.
Sandra has no aspirin but when Rosemary asks her for one is able to give her a Cachet Faivre. Advertised as being better than aspirin, this was a branded medicine to combat flu, fever, headache, and pain.
Mention of Dr Gaskell leads Lucilla Drake into thinking of the greengrocer, Cranford. “Cranford” is an 1853 novel by Elizabeth Gaskell.
The phrase “not all beer and skittles” meaning not always fun comes from the 1857 novel “Tom Brown’s School Days” by Thomas Hughes.
Sandra Farraday was wearing a Schiaparelli dress at the second dinner. Elsa Schiaparelli (1890 – 1973) was an Italian fashion designer and rival of Coco Chanel.
The quote “For the Colonel’s lady and Judy O’Grady are sisters under the skin” is the last line of Kipling’s poem “The Ladies”.
Vintage Mystery Challenge
Fulfils “When – During a special event”.
There is a certain cleverness in that we only have Ruth’s word that Victor Drake left for South America and she was the one who “dealt” with Ogilvie thus proving he was still there.
However the device of everyone having moved round one place round the table without anyone noticing either at the time or afterwards is nonsense. Christine Shannon notices all sorts of details and yet she doesn’t notice that? Come on! It may work in a short story (which this was originally, although the solution in the David Suchet version is different) where a sleuth may pick up on it in the immediate aftermath of a frightening scenario which has left the witnesses temporarily at a loss, but not where there is a sustained period of time afterwards to allow people to recollect things properly.
And another thing – I always forget that Pedro Morales is Victor Drake.