First published: UK, Hodder & Stoughton, 1956
Another of Josephine Bell’s competent, rather dull mysteries, aimed at an undemanding, middle-class, middle-aged, middle-brow, middle England readership.
Prologue: Farmer George Cutfield and butcher Paisley watch young author Julian Farnham carry beautiful young Celia Wainwright into her house.
When he’s gone, they find her dead – and they know what they have to do next…
Once you’ve read the prologue, you’re about 100 pages ahead of the game. Mystery: who needs it?
Ten years later, nice, retired Dr. Frost and his nice Scottish wife Jeanie buy a house in the Sussex Weald village of Upfold.
They find a skeleton under the hen-run – minus the skull, but with a stake through the rib-cage.
Celia was married to the previous owner – and she disappeared a decade ago. And the villagers think she was a witch.
A cleaner’s son fell under her spell, and hanged himself. A butcher’s boy drowned in the river. And her dog killed a farmer’s sheep – or was it Celia in were-form?
Gosh! Do you think those two people we met in the prologue beheaded her to stop her rising from the dead?
The Frosts’ nice daughter Judy provides the obligatory romance. She falls in love with Farnham. He was having an affair with Celia, and may have killed her.
“Oh, dear,” say all the nice ladies who’ve borrowed the book from the lending library; “I do hope it all works out!”
Dr. Frost and his wife potter around, gossiping. (Fans of Christie’s Hallowe’en Party will love it.) Fortunately, he has a pathologist friend in London.
Whodunit becomes obvious – and is revealed – several chapters before the end; it’s the most likely suspect, and there’s no ingenuity, or memorable clues.
Excellent for those who don’t want to tax their brains, but would rather know most of the plot from the opening chapter, and not have a surprise solution jangle their nerves.