PATRICIA MOYES – Death and the Dutch Uncle. Holt Rinehart & Winston; hardcover, 1968. Owl, paperback, 1983. Original UK edition: Collins Crime Club, hardcover, 1968.

PATRICIA MOYES Death and the Dutch Uncle

   After not reading her books for years, for no good reason I can think of, I’ve recently enjoyed several of Patricia Moyes’ detective novels, coming to think of her as one of the few remaining practitioners of the old-fashioned detective novel.

   As this book shows, however, she should stay away from writing thrillers, or books where Inspector Tibbett (and wife Emmy) get tangled into international intrigue.

   It begins innocently enough, with the gangland slaying of a small time gambler and miscellaneous hoodlum (appropriately nicknamed “Flutter Byers”) in a private bar. What connection could there be between this death and PIFL (the Permanent International Frontier Litigation)? A recent squabble between two obscure African nations brings this backwater London agency into the headlines, and Tibbett surprisingly finds himself right in the thick of it.

   As long as he stays in London, he seems to be on solid ground. It’s when he takes off for Holland (with wife Emmy) as part of a one-man (plus wife) effort to save one of the members of PIFL from an assassin’s bullet that that the novel began to lose its way.

   Not even the mention, several times over, of Inspector van der Valk helps that much, although it does give Tibbett some sort of support in a jurisdiction the recently promoted Scotland Yard superintendent simply doesn’t have. (Van der Valk himself never makes an appearance.) And of course Emmy gets into trouble…

   What I objected to even more, however, was the clumsy attempt to have a clue that means nothing to the reader (*) become a major key to the mystery. Moyes then compounds the insult by refusing to let us in on the explanation Henry gives Emmy on page 171.

   A minor matter, perhaps, but after spending as much time on this case as I had up till then, I thought I deserved something more than being blown off like this.

    (*) Well, unless you know Dutch, that is. I certainly don’t, and I’m also still miffed about the time it took to go back through the previous 170 pages to see if there was anybody with the name Filomeel I’d missed. (As it turns out, I did and I didn’t.)

Rating:   D plus.

— This review was intended to appear in Mystery*File 35. It was first published in Deadly Pleasures, Vol. 1, No. 3, Fall 1993 (somewhat revised).

[UPDATE] 10-16-11.   As you can tell, I felt let down by this one. What I can’t tell you is anything more about the book than this. I don’t remember it, not at all.

   Let me return, though, to my first paragraph, in which I referred to Moyes as one of the last practitioners of the old-fashioned (British) detective novel. I still believe this to be true, some 18 years later, though of course there have been some contenders who have come along since then.

   Kathi Maio’s 1001 Midnights review of A Six-Letter Word for Death, to be found here on this blog, agrees with this stance. On the other hand, I fear that in the same passage of 18 years, Patricia Moyes has become all but forgotten. I can’t say why, and perhaps it is not so. Opinions welcome!