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Patricia Moyes Analysis

(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

When Patricia Moyes began writing mysteries, the age of the cozy British detective story of the type written by such notables as Agatha Christie, Margery Allingham, and Dorothy L. Sayers seemed all but over. By the 1960’s, readers had come to expect thrilling action and scenes of sex and violence. In spite of this, Moyes created, in her Inspector Henry Tibbett series, the kind of mysteries she herself liked to read, focusing on interesting and intricate puzzles, exotic locales, and richly drawn characters. At the center of the series is the detective, Henry Tibbett, who rises through the ranks from chief inspector to chief superintendent of Scotland Yard over the course of the series, and his wife, Emmy, a full-time homemaker. Henry is sandy haired and pleasant looking, the kind of man one does not notice in a crowd, and Emmy is plump, athletic, and companionable. The two have been married for some time and are entirely believable as a long-established couple.

In the series, Tibbett and his wife travel to the parts of the world that Moyes knew best: Italy and Switzerland, the Netherlands, London, Washington, D.C., and the Caribbean. They ski and sail, as Moyes did throughout her life. Wherever they go, they befriend local people who confide in the kindly couple, providing information that Tibbett, with the aid of his “nose,” puts together to solve a crime. Common in the novels are comfortable domestic scenes, with the couple conversing in their simple and unfashionable home. However, there are also exciting scenes involving breakneck skiing, deathly hide-and-seek in Dutch canals, kidnapping, murder, and drug smuggling.

Murder à la Mode

A strength of Moyes’s novels is their powerful sense of setting; the writer paid a great deal of attention to getting the small details of a location or an industry correct. Often, she drew on her own experiences to bring the reader into a fascinating corner of the world, as she did in one of her best novels, Murder à la Mode (1963), which revolves around the world of fashion. The novel’s fictional magazine Style resembles Vogue, where Moyes worked for three years while she was in her thirties. Through the course of the novel, readers learn about the different career choices that might bring a clothing designer fame or a steady income, the long and dreary workdays of the models on whom clothing is constructed in a design studio, and the importance to manufacturers of the toile, the cotton model that is an exact copy of a designer original. Typical of Moyes’s work, the mystery involves a crime—the stealing of original dress designs—that could take place only within the given setting.

Moyes drew on her past to create the settings for other novels. Falling Star (1964) involves an actor who is killed while making a film and includes technical information Moyes gained during her years working with Peter Ustinov. In Johnny Under Ground (1965), Moyes’s sixth novel, the plot focuses on Tibbett’s wife Emmy who, like Moyes herself, was a section officer working with radar in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force during World War II. When Emmy begins writing a history of her old Air Force base, it leads to the sharing of memories among her former colleagues and then to murder.

Also typical of Moyes’s work is Murder à la Mode ’s lack of sex and violence. Although the characters are believable adults, and although Tibbett’s unmarried niece Veronica Spence is suspected of scandalous behavior with her significant other, Donald McKay, there are only hints at sexual behavior. In this novel, the lack of frankness about sex feels old-fashioned—even the police are embarrassed to say that a murder victim may have been pregnant—but in later novels scenes of passion are hardly missed. By the same token, although the cases Tibbett investigates involve murder, international intrigue, and even drug smuggling, there is virtually no blood on stage. Tibbett himself is shot several times through the series, but...

(The entire section is 1,286 words.)