The Taste of Murder by Joanna Cannan

Dover Book
ISBN 0-486-25296-5
171 Pages

back cover:
‘What a squalid little story you’ve made up. If you believe it, why don’t you arrest me?’

Bunny flung the challenge at Detective Inspector Ronald Price. He suspected and had accused her of murder. Two murders. She suspected him of being an idiot. They both had good reason for their suspicions.

On the Riviera, Bunny, the free-spirited widow of French poet Raoul Sallust, had met an English lord, Sir Charles d’Estray, accepted his proposal of marriage and returned with him to England as mistress of his vast estate, ‘The Park’. To save the declining fortunes of the estate, practical Bunny had introduced the distasteful-but successful-measure of accepting paying guests.

In this atmosphere of bitterly resented change, a poisonous plant has become the bitter brew of murder. And as a quarrelsome cast of d’Estays, their servants and guests, along with the mystified local police, lose themselves in a maze of mutual suspicion, bunny suddenly finds herself not only the chief suspect, bu also a prime candidate for murder.

I had read Death at the Dog by Joanna Canaan earlier this year and quite enjoyed it. This one was a very clever mystery to unravel, but I didn’t enjoy it as much. I think it was because I didn’t care for any of the characters. The New York Times said: ‘Told with a devastating detachment which is equally brutal toward the English gentry, its middle-class emulators and upstart cockney detectives.’  Seems to me Ms. Canaan didn’t like any of the characters in her own book and it showed. Maybe there was an axe to grind?

‘Oh well,’ said Patricia, ‘we’re not great bell-ringers. It means the servants have to come and ask what you want and then go back again, so it saves their legs if you yell. Of course the lodgers are always bell-ringing.’
  ‘To return to the point,’ said Price, surprised and not altogether pleased to find among the effete aristocracy such consideration for those misguided enough to serve them, ‘can you tell me in what order the riders proceeded to the stable?’

a few pages over we hear Inspector Price thinking…

He had no doubt that Bunny d’Estray was the poisoner, that, hating Elizabeth Hudson for her domestic tyranny and for her influence over the d’Estrays – motive insufficient to a man, perhaps, but typical of the smaller minded female.

And Patricia and her father Sir Charles although they don’t treat their servants like servants, are always discussing Bunny’s French background and moaning over her vulgarity as one beneath them. Why in the world did he marry her then!?

It all detracted enormously from the story and left me with a very unsatisfied feeling at the end of the book. Really the only good thing about this book was that it was an old Dover paperback and they know how to make them to last!

A DOVER EDITION DESIGNED FOR YEARS OF USE!

We have made every effort to make this the best book possible. Our paper is opaque, with minimal show-through; it will not discolor or become brittle with age. Pages are sewn in signatures, in the method traditionally used for the best books, and will not drop out, as often happens with paperbacks held together with glue. books open flat for easy reference. The binding will not crack or split. This is a permanent book.

Too bad all publishers don’t use this method!

Peggy Ann

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Death at The Dog by Joanna Cannan

originally published in 1941

from the back cover:
‘Set in late 1939 during the first anxious months of World War II, Joanna Cannan’s Death at The Dog is a wonderful example of the classic English detective novel that first flourished between the two World Wars when writers like Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers and Ngaio Marsh began practicing their trade. Like so many books of its period, Death at The Dog is set in a picturesque village filled with thatched-roof cottages, eccentric villagers and genial pubs. As well-plotted as a Christie, with clues abundantly and fairly planted, it’s also as deftly written as the best of the books by either Sayers or Marsh, filled with quotable lines and perceptive observations on the human condition. Cannan had a gift for characterization that’s second to none in Golden Age detective fiction, and she created two memorable lead characters in Death at The Dog.

One of them is Inspector Guy Northeast, a lonely young Scotland yard inspector who makes his second and final appearance here and finds himself hopelessly smitten with the chief suspect in the murder of the village tyrant. The other unforgettable character is the ‘lady novelist’ Crescy Hardwick, an unconventional and ultimately unobtainable woman a number of years Guy’s senior, who is able to pierce his armor and see the unhappiness that haunts the detective’s private moments. Well aware that all the evidence seems to point to her, she is also able – unlike her less imaginative fellow villagers – to see how very good Northeast is at his job.’

The village tyrant is murdered in a room full of people, everyone of them with reason to do it, and no one saw a thing. They thought he was asleep like every evening in The Dog. Very interesting puzzle. The clues are quite straight forward, no real red herrings and pretty easy to figure out. But Ms Cannan does write good characters. I was drawn in by the people and the pub. I liked Inspector Northeast and she could have done so much more with him if she had made the case a little harder to solve. The time period it was set in with petrol shortages and black outs really added to the story. The ‘unforgettable’ lady novelist was quite forgettable as far as I was concerned though:) I do want to read the first Inspector Northeast book now!

Peggy Ann