It's almost eighteen months since I featured Dorothy Bowers in Patti Abbott's series of Forgotten Books, so I thought she was more than due for another mention. She only wrote five novels in a career of great promise that was, sadly, cut short by TB. But they are books of distinct merit, which earned her election to the Detection Club not long before she died.
Shadows Before is an ambitious and elaborately plotted mystery. First published in 1939, it marked a welcome return for Chief Inspector Pardoe and his doughty sidekick Sergeant Salt. Again, the pair are called in when a local force, confronted by the fatal poisoning of a rich woman, needs the help of Scotland Yard. The sensitivity of the case is increased by the fact that the victim’s husband, Matthew Weir, was acquitted two years earlier of poisoning her sister. Weir is a mild-mannered academic who attracts the fervent support of those who know and like him – but is he a skilful double-murderer? And if not, what, if anything, is the connection between the two deaths?
The complications of the story are increased by the way in which Bowers shifts between the viewpoints of different characters – and in one instance, perhaps, she plays a little less than fair. The major flaw in the book is, however, simply that the cast of characters is too extensive, with the result that interest is diffused. This is a pity, because Bowers sketches her people with skilful economy and a less congested narrative would have been highly effective. It is a mark of her limited experience at the time, perhaps, that she overdid the complexities. Nevertheless, the quality of the writing has stood the test of time and makes this book a pleasure to read.
At one time, Bowers' novels weren't easy to find, and that may account for their having slipped out of sight. But Rue Morgue Press have done a great job in reprinting all five titles, and researching the all-too-short life of this accomplished writer.