Wednesday, February 24, 2010

12. The Small World of Murder by Elizabeth Ferrars

Turns out there is a neat little english used bookstore in Quito, Ecuador, called Confederate Books. I was quite excited to go there as you can often find a gold mine of old British mysteries and thrillers in some of these post-colonial countries. Unfortunately, Confederate books was very much like a North American used bookstore. A very nice store, actually, but not the gold mine I had been hoping for. Ecuador was never under British control, and it is in the Americas, so you probably don't get the same stream of publishing houses coming through there via travelers and expats. The owner was very friendly and we discussed John Wyndham (he recommended the original movie version of The Day of the Triffids, arguing for the effectiveness of its lack of special effects, an argument that convinced me to seek it out). He goes to the States on buying trips, purchases used books from travelers and occasionally finds treasures from peoples basements in town. He also gave us some helpful streetwise advice for the mean streets of Quito. So if you should ever be travelling in Ecuador, do stop at Confederate Books and pick yourself up some good used reading material. I got the book I shall review today and a nice hardback of Donald Westlake's High Adventure.

I had never heard of Elizabath Ferrars, but the concept and the cover looked appealing. It's the story of a young woman who is invited to go on a luxury trip around the world with a couple friend of hers whose baby was recently kidnapped and never recovered. They are at the point where they really need to decide to get on with their lives, but the mother (who is the closer friend of the protagonist, though she originally dated the father, who is now a successful author and can thus afford the trip) is still barely coping psychologically. At first, there is a lot of awkwardness and general tension, as the marriage is under considerable strain. The wife believes that the husband blames her for the kidnapping (she had left her child in the pram outside a supermarket). The husband thinks the wife won't allow him to forgive her. It's an unpleasant mess and the burden of her role as mediator starts to wear on the heroine. But things get really weird, when the wife starts to tell her that she thinks the husband is trying to kill her. There are a couple of incidents while traveling that could be interpreted either way. It's bizarre, because he appears to have no real motive and nor does she appear to have any real motive to lie.

It's juicy stuff and starts to get more complicated as they conclude their trip at a friend's winery in Australia where the husband had visited years ago. More and more backstory starts to bubble to the surface. I was able to guess most of the mystery about two-thirds of the way in and the denouement lacked a bit of punch (there turns out to be some fairly unlikable characters and while they get their comeuppance, as the reader you wanted it to be with a bit more satisfying vengeful vigour). All in all, a very enjoyable read, a tricky little story of selfish people and the complicated trouble they can get themselves and the innocent people around them in. I left it on the boat where I was travelling and hope someone else can find it and enjoy it.

Addendum: after doing a bit of research, I discovered that Elizabeth Ferrars was quite a succesful and prolific author for her time and one of the founding members of the British Crime Writers Association. You can read about her more in this obituary in the Independent. I'll keep an eye out for her stuff.

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