Saturday, December 24, 2022

Smoke Without Fire: E.X. Ferrars


When I saw this book by E.X. Ferrars  at the book store, and saw the lovely Christmas cover, I wanted to read it right away. But it was #6 in the Andrew Basnett series and I had not read any of the other books in the series. Luckily I ran into a great review of this book at Kate's blog, crossexaminingcrime. She assured me that it would be OK to read this series out of order, so I did and it was.

Andrew Basnett is a retired botanist, widowed, in his mid-seventies. He is visiting friends for the Christmas holidays. Colin Cahill and Andrew had been on staff at the same college in London for many years. Cahill and his wife had moved to Berkshire; their son lives with them, working in a nearby town. The family and Andrew have been invited to Sir Lucas Deardon's home for Christmas dinner. Unfortunately Sir Lucas returns to Berkshire from London a day early, and is blown up by a bomb in the lane by his home.

The first question is whether Sir Lucas was the intended victim, as he wasn't expected home at that time. If not, who was the bomb intended for? The lane that leads to Sir Lucas home would only be used to reach one other home, the Cahills. Could the Cahill's son, Jonathan, be the intended victim? The police inquire into the various relationships between the Cahills and Sir Lucas's relations, some living with him and others living in London. 

Andrew seems to me to be an accidental sleuth. He is not really intending to find the murderer, but he can't ignore the situation. He can't help being curious, and people like to talk to him.

There is a lot of talk in this mystery. Andrew talking to the family he is staying with. Andrew talking to various members of Sir Lucas's family. So if you don't like talky mysteries, this may not appeal. Fortunately I enjoy Ferrars' writing and this mystery was very appealing to me. 

Based on the books I have read so far by this author, her books are more about the people than the crimes. The crime exists but it seems to me to provide a framework for Ferrars to delve into the psychology and relationships among the characters. 

E.X. Ferrars was born Morna Doris MacTaggart. In the UK her books were issued under the name "Elizabeth Ferrars." She was a very prolific writer. I would guess that she published at least 60 books between 1940 and 1995. I have read three of her standalone books, and I liked all of them.


Publisher:   Felony & Mayhem, 2022 (orig. pub. 1990)
Length:      182 pages
Format:      Trade paperback
Series:       Andrew Basnett #6
Setting:      UK
Genre:        Mystery, set at Christmas
Source:      I purchased my copy.


Margot Kinberg said...

I like the Andrew Basnett character, Tracy, and I honestly hadn't thought about him in a long time. Thanks for the reminder. I haven't read all of the books, I admit, but I agree that they can be enjoyed out of order, and I'm glad you liked this one. You have a well-taken point about the characters in the story, too; they are the focus, and I think they're well-developed, even though the stories are not overly long.

TracyK said...

Oh yes, Margot, I also like that Ferrars' stories are not too long. But not lightweight either. I have two more books in the series on my shelves and I am looking forward to them.

Judith said...

Hi Tracy,
I'm so very glad to learn about this mystery. I've put it on my list for next Christmas--I'm so interested that you enjoyed it. Thanks for spreading the word!

TracyK said...

Judith, although I haven't read many books by E.X. Ferrars, I have truly enjoyed the books I have read, and glad that Felony & Mayhem have been reprinting some of her books. The 3rd book in this series, The Crime and the Crystal, is also set at Christmas in Australia, and I will be reading that one next year.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I like talky stories as long as the talk is not too twee. I think it is funny now I never run into the interesting old books you seem to find at your book sales. It is always James Patterson and the like here. Someone must be hoarding them all.

Lark said...

Talky mysteries can be fun, but I have to be in the right mood for them.

TracyK said...

Patti, I used to dislike mysteries with too much dialogue, but I am less picky nowadays.

For some reason, there are huge numbers of mysteries at the book sale vs other types of books. So there is a good mix of both older unusual mysteries and the big name authors. There are also a lot of of non-genre fiction books, which I have paid more attention to in the last couple of years, but so many I get lost in them.

TracyK said...

Lark, usually I would assume that talky mysteries have less depth and character development, but that wasn't true here.

CLM said...

I would not have been able to resist this cover either!

It reminds me of something but I can't think what. Maybe an old New Yorker cover.

I did laugh that you got permission to read this out of order. Nicely done!

TracyK said...

Constance, I was glad I ran into this book when I did. It was good to get started reading this series. I am always leery of reading out of order, because I hate to have earlier stories spoiled. But I had a feeling it would work in this case, and I was glad Kate could confirm that.