It is not the happiest of journeys to the other side of the world for a family Christmas. Nina Hemslow knows that when she accepts the invitation to join her wealthy friends, Nicola and Jocelyn Foley, for the Foleys had recently lost their only child - a daughter who vanished without trace from her pram outside a supermarket, and whom police and parents are convinced is dead.The story opens with Nina, Nicola, and Jocelyn beginning their trip from Heathrow airport. They unexpectedly meet an old friend of Jocelyn's, Bill Lyndon. Bill is returning to Australia after visiting his sister in London, and Jocelyn is joining his brother Adrian for Christmas in Australia. Along the way, the group visits Mexico, then Fiji, and finally New Zealand. Bill joins them for a few days in Mexico. At several stops along the way, there are strange mishaps; both Jocelyn and Nina express their fears that the other is trying to get rid of them. This becomes a very uncomfortable situation for Nicola.
I found this to be a great read, although the suspense for most of the book is just figuring what is going on. The first death occurs over 50% into the book, and even at that point it is not clear why. Are both members of the couple unbalanced because of the loss of their child? Why does Bill keep inserting himself into their activities? In the end it all makes sense, although there is a bit of melodrama.
This is a very different Christmas mystery (for those of us not living in or near Australia). It is during the summer and very hot.
[In Fiji] Jocelyn, who had his very expensive German camera with him, took photographs of mountain and shore, of straw huts and flaming flowering trees. One of these, drenched in fiery red blossom, was call a Christmas tree and was a reminder that Christmas was only three weeks ahead. A Christmas that would feel very strange, coming as it would at the peak of the Australian summer.And several weeks later in Australia, Sergeant Furness, a detective, is asking Nina about her whereabouts at the time of the murder:
"My word, if you want to commit a crime, my advice is, do it in the afternoon of Christmas Day. Everyone's had too much to eat and drink, and it's hot, and they'll have been swimming, if they've had the chance, so what do they want to do but sleep, and who's going to see anything? You really didn't hear or see anything?"I love Ferrars' descriptions of people, of their relationships, even their clothes. She often describes how people dress and I never find it to detract from the story; the descriptions fit right in.
She describes Sergeant Furness:
... a tall, fleshy man with greying hair and a round, unexpressive slab of a face. He was wearing a light grey suit, a mauve shirt and a highly coloured tie, in which he looked far more as if he had come from a party than to investigate a death. Probably his clothes were what he had put on for his Christmas festivities.I have only read one other book by Ferrars, Skeleton in Search of a Cupboard. It was a gift from Moira at Clothes in Books, primarily because of the skeleton on the cover. I liked that book a lot.
I happily found The Small World of Murder and one other book by Ferrars at the Planned Parenthood book sale this year, on the last day I visited the sale. Serendipitously, this book was set at Christmas, so it fit perfectly into my Christmas reading.
I have enjoyed the two books by Ferrar that I have read. They are moody and I like the writing. It is never quite clear who the "good guys" are vs. the "bad guys." Everyone seems very normal, but there is something strange going on beneath the surface. Yet they don't give me the uncomfortable feeling I get when reading Ruth Rendell's non-series books. In Rendell's books that I have read, you can generally tell who is evil or manipulative; in Ferrar's I am never sure until the end. I don't contend that her books are better than Rendell's non-series books; they just suit me better.
Elizabeth Ferrars published a lot of books, from 1940 through the 1990s. Some were series books; around 30 books with five series characters. There were also at least 40 standalone books. Her books were published under the name E. X. Ferrars in the US. I would like to try some of her series novels and also more of the standalone books.
Publisher: Penguin Books, 1976 (orig. pub. 1973).
Length: 159 pages
Setting: Australia, Mexico, Fiji, New Zealand, UK
Source: Purchased at the Planned Parenthood book sale, 2015.