Title: Fear for Miss Betony
Author: Dorothy Bowers
First published in 1941; republished by Moonstone Press on 23rd September 2019
Genre: Golden Age Mystery
Former governess Emma Betony is living a quiet and boring life. She’s waiting to get into an old-age home when she gets a letter from one of her former students – Grace Aram. Emma did not feel attached to any of her students – anyone except Grace. Grace was an orphan and different from the other students and this what brought them closer. A few letters once in a couple of years was their only means of contact, until now, when Grace asks Emma’s help. Grace runs Makeaways, a boarding school for girls. Makeaways is newly relocated to a former nursing home. Two of the residents (Miss Wand and Miss Turloe) refused to move out and there was nothing Grace could do about it. Someone is trying to poison Miss Turloe and Grace wants Emma’s help in finding the perp. Emma Betony goes to Makeaways, unaware of the danger that lies ahead.
The creepy house where ghosts lurk, Miss Thurloe’s screams and fear of being poisoned, Miss Wand being in her own world, Grace Aram torn between running the school and trying to find Thurloe’s murderer, weirdo teachers and students, a fortune-teller who’s charmed a couple of students and Thurloe – The fear for Miss Betony is certainly a complete mystery package.
As the story begins, we are given a gist of the relationship that Emma and Grace share. As Emma arrives at Makeaways, she senses something creepy in the Martinmas House (the place where Makeaways’ currently relocated to). The screams, the howling wind and eerie silence, the Martinmas House is haunted by psychological sound ghosts!
Emma starts to investigate, she talks to the staff and Miss Thurloe’s nurse. For all you know, Miss Thurloe might be a hypochondriac. Maybe, no one is trying to kill her, she’s just making a fuss to seek attention. As the story proceeds, Emma does not find any concrete evidence to even suggest Thurloe’s is being poisoned.
Things begin to change in the second half of the story. First, it’s all slow and steady – it makes you feel there’s something sinister at play and yet, things are calm. And then, wham! Emma finds the key to the mystery – but, is it too late? The murderer is getting closer and closer; will they kill again?
The only niggle I had with this story is the abrupt ending. With so much suspense built throughout, I was hoping things to end in a better way. After Emma’s light-bulb moment, Inspector Purdoe enters the scene. Bowers has woven such an intricate mystery around Emma Betony you will never realize that the clues were all there; right in front of ya; from the beginning of the story; but your grey cells were enjoying a siesta! Hmph!
If I have to dig deeper into our main character, Emma Betony, I would say, she’s portrayed as a strong and independent woman. A spinster, yes, but Emma Betony is someone who is not afraid of the mystery the future holds. Greengrocer’s daughter or not, Emma Betony knows to survive. She’s always been a survivor and nothing would change that, come ghosts or fortune-tellers.
Speaking of which, fortune-teller Ambrosio is another character that caught my attention. The man reeks of creepy and everything else that raises the hairs on the back of your neck. Crystal gazing, palmistry and many more, this guy charms his clients – or, should I say, cons them all?! I have to talk about Grace too, after all, her calling Emma is what started all this mess! Grace Aram is busy with this that and everything else. She was supposed to pick Emma from the train station but doesn’t. Even when Emma arrives at Makeaways, Grace seems engrossed in her own world.
Excellent character portrayal, well-concocted mystery with sprinkles of eerie-ness, and a unique ending; Fear for Miss Betony was surely a one-of-a-kind read for me. If you are a GAD fan and/or want to experiment with reading something out of our comfort zone, I recommend you to give this book a try.
Many thanks to Debra from Moonstone Press for the review copy.