Perfectly Pure and Good

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In the prologue to her latest mystery/suspense novel, Frances Fyfield introduces several of the characters and the quaint village of Merton-on-Sea, a seemingly peaceful place with more than its share of hidden problems, including a ghost and the drowning death of Elisabeth Tysall. The story then moves to London, where Malcolm Cook frets over his relationship with Sarah Fortune, whom he met while saving her from an attack by Charles Tysall. Fortune is thus introduced indirectly; she becomes the primary character.

Ernest Matthewson, head of the firm employing both Cook and Fortune, sends Fortune to Merton-on-Sea to sort out the estate left to Jennifer Pardoe. Her husband’s will left everything to her, with the estate to be left to all of his children after her death, in whatever shares she decides. The will is complicated by the fact that Jennifer Pardoe appears to have lost her capacity to reason. Matthewson believes that Fortune will be able to help the children decide how to split their expected inheritance equitably, then to convince Jennifer Pardoe to sign an appropriate will. Soon after her arrival, Fortune discovers that the Pardoes own much of the village and, as landlords, are not well liked by the villagers.

Fortune develops as a character while in Merton-on-Sea. Lying on the beach when the tide comes in, she nearly replicates Elisabeth Tysall’s death. Her clothes are lost in the accident, so she drives back to the Pardoe home naked, perfectly willing to accept the stares of other drivers. Once at the Pardoe home, still naked, she turns cartwheels in the yard. Later, she sleeps with one of the villagers and with Julian Pardoe. Both needed comforting, and sex is the way she tries to heal pain. Fortune is thus made to appear somewhat flighty and superficial, but she eventually solves the problem of the Pardoe will through discovering what each of the Pardoe children truly wants from the inheritance.

A subplot involves a ghost sighted by several villagers. When tangible objects begin to disappear, the rest of the village takes the ghost more seriously. Fyfield nicely ties this subplot into the primary story line, at the same time resolving Fortune’s feelings about the earlier attack on her by Charles Tysall.