Sunday, May 25, 2014

Skeleton in Search of a Cupboard: Elizabeth Ferrars

From the description of the book on the front flap of the dust jacket:
The luncheon-party in honour of Henrietta Cosgrove's eightieth birthday had gone very well. Her five stepchildren had gathered to celebrate in her lovely old thatched house and to enjoy the food prepared by Freda, the narrator/wife of one of them. Suddenly Henrietta dropped a bombshell. To shore up her dwingling income, she proposed to have valued with a view to selling two landscapes by a painter whose work had recent appreciated. The more practical suggestion that she should sell the over-large house instead threw the Cosgroves into confusion, for it was a suggestion to which several of them were violently opposed. That night the house burned down...
It looks like a case of arson, and that is the first mystery. But the fire reveals more mysteries hidden in the house, and starts a very uncomfortable series of events for the Cosgroves.


As noted above, the story is narrated by Freda, the wife of a younger son in the family, Peter. Henrietta's husband and the father of the five children, Raymond, had two sets of children by his previous two wives. Three children by the first wife and two children by the second. Peter is much younger than his siblings by the first marriage so there is less of a bond. It gets very complicated.

A lot of exposition is provided on the history and the relationships, and I enjoyed all of that. I am partial to books with first-person narration, and Freda's place in the family gives her the perfect perspective (vantage point) to tell the story without being privy to all the background.

I enjoyed this story and found it suspenseful and entertaining. There were several mysteries to follow but I did not get lost in the complexity. There is no real sleuth in this story.  Detective-Superintendent Beddowes investigates the house fire and related issues, but he is not involved directly in the story. If anyone at all is trying to figure out all the mysteries, it is Freda's husband, Peter, but Freda is not always privy to his actions. I would compare it to some of Robert Barnard's stand alone novels, and to a certain extent like Ruth Rendell's non-Wexford novels (although I haven't read a lot of those). The story definitely does not have the uncomfortable tension of Rendell's novels.

This book came to me via Moira of the Clothes in Books blog. Knowing that I collect books with skeletons on the cover, and that I wanted to try a book by Elizabeth Ferrars, she kindly sent me this book for my collection. I am so very grateful to her. Both the cover and the title are wonderful. I think it is a great example of Ferrars' writing and it has enticed me to try more books by the author.

And I will include an extract with clothing descriptions...
'Of course, if I'd known you were all coming, I'd have dressed for the occasion,' she went on. 'Here I am in my old blouse and skirt and all of you looking so smart....'
Her blouse and skirt, both of a soft lavendar shade, might be old, but she looked very trim in them. Beryl's new two-piece was dark green, which went well with her reddish hair. I had put on a jersey dress of coral colour, and Peter had been coaxed into his one good suit which he could normally be cajoled into wearing only when he had been invited to drinks by some of our more elderly acquaintances in the village, who might be put out if he appeared in a sweater and corduroys. His hair, luckily, was at the stage when it was neither too short nor too long and he was looking, I thought, remarkably handsome.
But even I, deeply though I loved him, could not persuade myself that he was as handsome as his half-brother, Martin.
At this point the narrator goes on to describe everyone else in the room, their looks, their clothes, their demeanors and quirks. It is a good introduction to the characters we have not met already. There is a large cast of characters to keep track of throughout the book.

From what I have read, online and in my mystery reference books, this book is not typical of all of Ferrars' novels. Ferrars wrote a lot of novels (see her Fantastic Fiction page for a list); I counted approximately 45 stand alone novels and 30 series novels (5 different series). Her first book was published in 1940, the last in the 1990's. The earlier books are said to be fairly-clued mysteries.  I am guessing there was a lot of variety in the types of mysteries she wrote. There are several others I plan to try.

Links to posts on other novels by Elizabeth Ferrars:


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Publisher:  Collins Crime Club, 1982
Length:  181 pages
Format:  Hardcover
Setting:  English village
Genre:  Mystery

26 comments:

  1. TracyK: An involuntary shiver went through me when I saw that cover photo.

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    1. It is frightening, isn't it, Bill? The title sounds humorous, but the story is not.

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  2. It is a great cover, Tracy! I'll be on the look out for this!

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    1. Hope you find it, Peggy. I had so much in the post already, I forgot to say that the title in the US was slightly different: "Skeleton in Search of a Closet".

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  3. Tracy - Oh, I'm glad you enjoyed this. I like Ferrars' writing too, and that cover - powerful!

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    1. Margot, none of her books are long (I would guess), but still, I will never be able to read all of them.

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    2. I never heard of this author, so my education in crime fiction has gaping holes.

      Strange but the skeleton on the cover would put me off from reading it. Sitting in my bed late at night reading a book with a skeleton illustration already ups the nervousness level, so I'd have to skip it.

      Also, my to be read stacks are too big and the lists much bigger.

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    3. I can understand not liking the skeleton on the cover, Kathy. But that is all right, she wrote plenty of other books you might run into some day. And there are always plenty of books to read.

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  4. She is sometimes known as E.X. Ferrars and I think that although she was born in Rangoon her family was Scottish and of course she lived in Edinburgh for many years, so she would qualify for the Read Scotland 2014 Challenge. I've enjoyed the few books of hers which I've managed to find.

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    1. Katrina, you are right. The books published in the US had the name E. X. Ferrars. I will add this to the Read Scotland challenge.

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    2. This sounds rather good, although probably not easy to find. Btw, can I ask, what's the Read Scotland challenge?

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    3. Hi, crimeworm. Read Scotland 2014 is a challenge hosted by Peggy Ann's Post to "Read and review Scottish books -any genre, any form- written by a Scottish author (by birth or immigration) or about or set in Scotland."

      There is more about the challenge here:
      http://peggyannspost.blogspot.com/2013/11/read-scotland-2014.html

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  5. Tracy, I did not know you collected books with skeletons on the cover. How many have you collected so far? I liked the cover and the title too, especially the title since skeletons are already in one's cupboards. The work of this author is amazing.

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    1. Prashant, if my book catalog is to be believed, I have at least 60 books with a skull or a skeleton or a skeleton part (hands are a favorite) on the cover. That number is probably low because I know some are missing from that list.

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  6. Thanks TracyK - I will definitely investigate further!

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  7. Gosh, I think I would really enjoy this one.

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    1. I hope you try it, Ryan. I hope I find more like this, myself.

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  8. So glad you liked it Tracy, and the book now has a good home! I am going to do a blog entry on it myself: as you say, she lets us know what people are wearing, even if they are rather 80s-ish clothes - not my favourite era....

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    1. Moira, I was very grateful to get this book and to enjoy the story too. I remember the 80's, but not the clothes. I think that is when I began to be less interested in dressing to fit the style.

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  9. Glad you enjoyed this one, but I don't think she's going to make it onto my list of authors who I want to read.

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  10. Hmm, I'll have to look out for her books. I actually like the cover :-) Thanks for the great review. Off to look her up.

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    1. Thanks, Keishon. She gets mixed reviews and the quality of the books vary (so I hear). But I like the way she told this story.

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  11. I didn't realise you collected books with skeletons on the cover. What a great collecting idea. I'm jealous!

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    1. I do love my skeleton covers, Sarah. Of course, most have drawings rather than photos featuring the real thing.

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