Margot Bennett’s The Widow of Bath is one of a series of mysteries long out of print brought back in the British Library Crime Classics line. A celebrated author in her time, this revival for Bennett seems well earned at first glance.
The book begins with a man writing a negative review of a resteraunt in almost real time. This is Hugh Everton, the lead of the novel. He had a bright future, but a criminal misunderstanding and connection to a young woman named Lucy led to him spending time behind bars. Following on from that, he worked his way up to writing about hotels and accommendations of various sorts for a travel agency.
The new life seems to suit him well enough, when he runs into Lucy again, as well as her new and much older husband. It has just begun to look like a serious complication, and the sudden murder of the afrementioned husband and injury to Lucy’s dog seem to confirm it. It is quite a good set up for a mystery, and the arrival of the police does anything but make the matter clearer.
Lucy, Hugh, and Jan are arguably the important leads of this volume. They also form a love triangle of sorts. Hugh is the books obvious protaganist, and he finds that there remains a draw from Lucy which is hard to resist, even as he also has a clear attraction to Jan. Lucy is the title character, or at least becomes it once her husband seems to have been murdered, and Jan is her niece by marriage. This is a complex enough arrangement before the murders and criminal history come into play, but remains just on the side of believable.
The running issues related to Hugh’s hotel stay are simultaneously amusing and somewhat intriguing. While not directly connecting to the murders at first glance, the reader will find the almost nonchalant attitude of the hotel manager odd given the various circomstances he describes. Simultaniously, he seems not as bothered as it might be from the reactions Hugh has, or the nearly catastrophic results that would come from the employee related problems he describes.
A nice little introduction is included. The entertaining setting and characters, along with twisting plot, makes The Widow of Bath exceptionally interesting. The story hooks the reader quickly and then takes just enough time to introduce major players before the first body hits the ground, showing masterful pacing. While not a perfect work, it is a great mystery novel and a solid introduction to the work of Margot Bennett.
(British Library Press, 2021)