Clues to Christabel (Mary Fitt)

  • By Mary Fitt
  • First published: UK: Michael Joseph, 1944; US: Doubleday, 1944

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Something of a companion piece to Requiem for Robert: investigation of enigma’s personality after their death; relationship with selfish family (grandmother and mother); childhood; characters tell their stories—memories of the past, of what Christabel was like, and how she affected their lives.  Has the crisp character-drawing of an Agatha Christie, although Fitt’s not really interested in detection—the plot moves towards a dénouement, but, instead of an accusation / explanation, there’s an extended flashback from the murderer’s POV.  Culprit’s guilt convinces—money, inferiority complex.  Ambiguous twist at end: Christabel knew X wanted to kill her, and was ready to die—whose fault was it?

  • Murder by withholding medicine so that victim dies of illness: Death and Mary Dazill


Times Literary Supplement (Maurice Willson Disher, 13th May 1944): More than one author has tried to follow Poe’s example and use the cramped framework of detective stories for a work of art.  At her first attempt Miss Mary Fitt succeeded so well that to imagine a better novel in this style than Death and Mary Dazill was difficult.  At her second and third attempts she achieved less, and deserved sympathy for the task she had set herself.  Clues to Christabel again discloses that haunting wistfulness which the author calls “evocation”.  It can be compared to a summer’s day.  It stirs half-forgotten memories of all our past summers and makes the tragedy of Christabel deepen our nostalgia till we squirm.  She is a lovely figure as remembered by the doctor who played tennis with her in their early youth: “the fair gauze-like hair done up with a big bow at the back, the long white dress with flounces, the absurdly narrow waist, the eyes so light and clear that one thought of them as ice-blue, whatever that may mean, the tripping walk, half-run, that she always used, the way she looked back over her shoulder with a laugh and a wave of the hand.”  He forgets her.  She becomes a successful novelist, then dies unexpectedly and he reads her diary.  There is a very winning delicacy about the sadness of it all until the end, when the sentiment seems forced.

Observer (Maurice Richardson, 28th May 1944): BUSY BODIES

We needs must know the highest when we see it.  Hats off, then, to Miss Mary Fitt for her plucky little try to raise the standard in Clues to Christabel.  A serious, very tortuous, backwards-and-forwards study of the murder of a strangely evanescent woman novelist, it needs rather more careful reading than some of you, who, I know, like to doze over your crimes, may be prepared to give; but I can guarantee some suspense and excitement.