William F. Deeck


ANNE HOCKING – Poison Is a Bitter Brew.Chief Inspector William Austen #7. Doubleday Crime Club, US, hardcover, 1942. First published in the UK as Miss Milverton, by Geoffrey Bles, hardcover, 1941.

   Miss Milverton, or Aunt Augusta to some, is the doyen of the Milverton family in Trevarrow, a large Cornish village. She has inherited, for the duration of her life, the Milverton home, grounds. and farm, and administers them as a maiden lady of uncertain years and fixed views would be likely to do. Miss Milverton cannot be said to be liked by anyone, but she is certainly respected by most.

   Unfortunately, the heir to the estate is a bit of a wastrel with a tendency to low morals, though not as low, Miss Milverton feels, as those of his wife. When the heir dies on the estate from what appears to be food poisoning — oxalic acid presumably made from rhubarb leaves — there is little mourning.

   Another death under similar circumstances opens up a reinvestigation of the first one, and Chief Inspector William Austen is brought in from Scotland Yard. Austen is a gentleman and a scholar, and he handles the investigation in a manner befitting those two attributes.

   The novel is well written, with some interesting characters, but the ultimate heir is a bit too charming, or so we are told, to be real. Still, this book makes one look forward to reading more mystery novels by Anne Hocking.

— Reprinted from CADS 17, October 1991. Email Geoff Bradley for subscription information.

Bibliographic Notes:   Anne Hocking was the name under which Naomi Annie Hocking Messer (nicknamed “Mona”) wrote most of her more than 40 mysteries, in a career extending from 1933 to her death in 1966, with one book appearing in 1968, two years after her death. Over 30 of them were cases for Superintendent Austen. Only a small fraction of her work was ever published in the US.