Postscript to Poison (Dorothy Bowers)

Bowers’s first book.  The plot is ultra-traditional but well executed: the poisoning of an unpleasant wealthy old woman, who kept her expectant grand-daughters virtually imprisoned, tyrannised her companion, and changed her will.  Morphia is put in her medicine.  I suspected one criminal (as we were meant to), but didn’t suspect the other.

Query: In her five books, does Bowers have her own “voice”?  Accomplished, but not outstanding.  Several are in the style of Christie, one in that of Freeman (A Deed Without a Name), and one is a bad pastiche of Gladys Mitchell (Fear and Miss Betony). Hallmarks of her work: rural settings; arty descriptions of nature and plants; spinsters and older women; murder by poison.


1938 Hodder & Stoughton

A quiet place Minsterbridge – just the sort of idle place, in fact, to make a likely background for the poison letters which kept reaching Dr. Tom Faithful while he was attending old Mrs. Lackland in her last illness.

Poison letters may have nothing behind them, beyond the warped jealousy and the spiteful enmity of the writer. To that extent the origin of the poison letters in Minsterbridge could be found easily enough among the ill-assorted members of the great household which had to comply with every whim of the tyrannical Mrs. Lackland.

But the strange thing about the Minsterbridge letters was that they seemed to have some knowledge of a certain crime before the crime was committed. And that is how they came to engage the particular attention of Chief-Inspector Dan Pardoe, of New Scotland Yard, when they sent him to investigate the sudden death of Mrs. Lackland, – a death which, to the ill-concealed annoyance of the Lackland household, Dr. Faithful refused to certify as being due to natural causes. Did those letters reveal some secret knowledge? Or was the prophetic truth of their contents just incredible coincidence? Chief-Inspector Dan Pardoe was not the only person in Minsterbridge who pondered on the answer.


Times Literary Supplement (Maurice Percy Ashley, 13th August 1938): Postscript to Poison is a first novel with quite a clever, if slightly hackneyed, plot.  Again we have the rich old lady who makes all her dependents’ lives a burden murdered, and this is followed by the usual second murder to eliminate a possible witness with the whole affair finally unravelled by a conscientious, if nondescript, officer from Scotland Yard.  The story and the solution are reasonably plausible, but the setting, writing, and characterisation are on the weak side.

Observer (Maurice Richardson, 21st August 1938): Miss Bowers is new this term.  Let me be the first member of the staff to extend her a hearty welcome.  She has been coached in our traditions, and is likely to settle down quickly.  Postscript to Poison is a thoroughly satisfying piece of family narcotising—in the old horror’s medicine just before she was going to change her will.  Good characters including frustrated wards, one of whom lets a film actor in by the garden gate, and the local doctor, who suffers from attacks by a poison pen.  A double bluff by Miss Bowers effectively conceals who did it.  This pupil has little to learn, and should go far.

The Times (6th September 1938): DOMESTIC POISONING

Another detective (whose first appearance this is) who may in the future strengthen the ladies’ team of sleuths [like Ngaio Marsh‘s Alleyn in Death in a White Tie] is Chief Inspector Dan Pardoe.  He makes his bow in Postscript to Poison, a first novel in which the author shows herself considerably adept not only in contriving a plot to puzzle readers, but in characterisation and command of situation.  She recounts a domestic poisoner mystery in which the two step-grandchildren of the murdered woman, the local doctor, and an anonymous letter writer play important parts.  Miss Dorothy Bowers, if her succeeding books maintain the level of her first, should make a name in detective fiction.

Milward Kennedy, Sunday Times: Dorothy Bowers is a very promising newcomer to the school of classical detection.

Punch: Dorothy Bowers is a promising addition to the mystery-battalion of novelists.