Patricia Moyes (1923-2000) published 19 traditional British detective stories featuring Henry Tibbett, a Chief Inspector at Scotland Yard, and his wife Emmy between 1958 and 1993. While they were popular during the last half of the 20th century, they were not reprinted with the same fervor as other authors enjoyed. Anyone who wanted to read this excellent series from the late 1990s on had to rely on the second-hand book market. Fortunately for all of us Felony & Mayhem picked up the rights to publish and re-issued all of the books in paperback and electronic forms in 2018.
The books are distinguished by careful plots and a lack of graphic violence; their focus is on the process of solving the murder rather than the psychology of committing it. Tibbett himself is quite ordinary and does not stand out in any particular way except for his “nose”, his intuitive sense about the cases he works. His wife Emmy, quite likable on her own account, often supports his investigations. Unlike other British detectives who tend to stay at home on their own patch, Henry and Emmy Tibbett are globe-trotters, undertaking murder cases all over the world, capitalizing on Moyes’ own travelling experiences.
The F&M reprints have been out long enough to start appearing on the occasional discounted ebook lists. I was delighted to see The Sunken Sailor on a recent email offer. I didn’t recognize the title and felt certain this was a Henry Tibbett that I missed. I had only to read a few pages in the first chapter to remember the book but not the details. I have since learned one reason I didn’t recognize it was the variation in the British title from the U.S. title of Down Among the Dead Men.
The Sunken Sailor (Collins Crime, 1961) begins with Henry and Emmy setting off to learn sailing with some new friends in a quiet coastal town. The village is gearing up to elect its next mayor in a great subplot that features questionable election results, a subject some of us are all too familiar with just now. Stories about a local sailor who was killed in an accident a month earlier sets off Henry’s famous nose. He tries to ignore it without success. When another sailor is killed in another apparent accident, he sheds all pretense and goes full throttle into police mode.
There’s as much about sailing as there is police investigation in this story. It might be enthralling to a boating enthusiast but it was a little tedious to me. The characters as always are a highlight, and the ending resolves more than one crime, one more predictably than the other. Not Golden Age chronologically but quite Golden Age in style. Recommended, as is the entire series.