Tuesday, May 28, 2013
A Brush with Death by Sheila Pim
Who, how and why is someone slowly trying to poison to death Irish artist Fergus Gandon? The Irish Guard rule out accidental poisoning, since neither his wife, Nell, nor their three children show any signs of arsenic poisoning. Fergus is as irascible as he is talented, so there are any number of people who might wish him ill, including a young artist, Paddy Purtill, whose career Fergus has sidelined. Or could the villain be Lord Kilskour, on whose country estate Fergus lives and works? Some say Kilskour has taken a particular interest in Nell. Or has Nell herself grown tired of living the romantic but impoverished life of the artist’s wife? Perhaps their ex-convict servant, Mosney, harbors some mysterious grudge. And there’s also Fergus’ greatest supporter, his art dealer, to consider, but whey would a shrewd businessman like Arnold Silke want to kill the goose that lays the golden egg?
The usually unflappable Fergus is worried enough to invite himself to stay with his sister Hester Fennelly in Dublin while he recovers. He quickly installs himself as the Irish version of The Man Who Came to Dinner, much to the quiet consternation of Hester’s husband, Paul. Fergus’ niece, Barbara, who has an interest in things artistic, is overjoyed. It should be a totally safe environment for Fergus, but the poisoning continues.
Employing a quiet wit along with keen observations of Irish life, Pim works in her usual gardening lore while presenting one of the cleverest art scams in the literature in this charming 1950 mystery which makes its first appearance in the U.S.
Another great vintage mystery by Sheila Pim! Published in 1950 in the UK and finally brought to the US by Rue Morgue Press in 2002. All of her novels have a gardening background as she was a great gardener. There are 4 Irish mysteries by Ms. Pim. This is the second I've read and I have the others on my shelf waiting to be read!
I love her characters, some quite quirky, and her wit. She has a way of making you feel like she's letting you in on a great secret as she writes. It's like she's there telling you the story over a cup of tea.
"Now an idea which may be in the reader's mind already had occurred some minutes earlier to Detective Officer Lemon. It felt as if his vest tickled him, and as soon as he could catch the eye of the chairman he came out with:
'Suppose the chap sucked his brush?'"
I had been shouting up until this 'It's in the paint!, It's in the paint!' Ah, but who put it there?
Lots of great info on poisons and vintage artists paint was very interesting too. She did her research!
"Orpiment and realgar are now out of date, being deadly poisonous and found to deteriorate with age. It would not be very easy to obtain them in their old and genuine form. Some English manufacturers retain the old names but produce the same shade out of different chemical constituents. 'King's yellow' in watercolors is made from cadmium and Chinese white. But there are still firms who preserve old recipes and specialize in supplying colors in their original form to painters with antiquarian taste. It may not be possible to obtain everything of which the Old Masters availed themselves. Painters working in the dawn of chemistry inclined to muck and mysteries of their own; their choice ingredients were dragon's blood and powdered Egyptian mummy. Bisulphide and trisulphide of arsenic, however, are not beyond the resources of the twentieth century.'
Hester's arrogant brother, Fergus' comment upon seeing her after many years apart sparked a thought by Hester that I decided I would hold onto for myself, here in middle age!
"You have got fat!"
'It was not fair. Hester had put on flesh as many matrons do, and her at one time seductive curves now required, as the fashion papers say, to be controlled, but fat she was not; her step was brisk and her energy unimpaired. Some people were quite surprised to learn that she had a grown-up daughter. She considered Fergus was in no case to twit her with the ravages of time.'
And for the garden aficionados there are many references to different flowers, trees and even vintage apple varieties. In fact a historical reference to Dahlia's proves a forgery!
You won't be disappointed with a Sheila Pim mystery! She also wrote 3 novels of Irish life all full of gardens and gardening. I would so love to read one in particular - The Sheltered Garden (1965) but can only find one copy and it is $65! Darn! Those of you in the UK might have luck finding her books at book sales and yard sales. Even your libraries.
Check here to read my review of one other of her mysteries!
I found a photo of Ms. Pim too! It was on the back book cover.
Read about her here.