Sara Woods, who died shortly after the completion of the present work, occupied throughout her long career a firm if secondary place in a tradition of British women mystery writers. Agatha Christie no doubt ranks as the most eminent of these, but others include E.X. Ferrars, Ngaio Marsh, and Elizabeth Lemarchand. The writers in this school excel at intricate plotting, while the development of character is deprecated or ignored; the hero typically belongs to the upper class and is often portrayed in a whimsical fashion.
NAKED VILLAINY falls firmly within this pattern, though the plot can hardly be described as overly taxing in ingenuity. A young man stands accused of parricide. He enlists the aid of Anthony Maitland, an attorney of near preternatural powers, who is soon convinced of his client’s innocence.
How can Maitland secure his client’s release? To do so, he realizes, he must conduct his own investigation of the murder. He at once encounters the forces of evil, in the anachronistic form of a witches’ coven. The activities of this cabal, Maitland discovers, pertain directly to the crime it is his task to solve. There is no challenge to which Maitland cannot respond adequately; and at the trial of his client he compels the perpetrator to confess in open court. The publishers have also included a charming “biography” of Maitland, in the style of Conan Doyle on Sherlock Holmes or Dorothy Sayers on Peter Wimsey.