While S. J. Rozan’s Bill Smith reminded me of the Energizer Bunny, Patricia Moyes’ Inspector Tibbett reminded me a bit of the Maidenform Woman. That is, you never know where he’ll turn up. Certainly in general, Tibbett is unorthodox and enigmatic. He is not, however, at the center of Twice in a Blue Moon. A young woman named Susan Gardiner is.
Susan is multifaceted: determined restaurateur, sleuth out of necessity, but also a remarkably unwise and susceptible person. When Susan inherits a decrepit inn near London called The Blue Moon, she decides to use her schooling in hotel management to revive it as a restaurant. Unfortunately, soon after the restaurant opens, diners die there, suspiciously. Enter (for an unclear reason) Inspector Henry Tibbett from Scotland Yard.
This is not a lurid crime novel, like Ed McBain’s Shotgun. Rather, Twice in a Blue Moon feels like an Agatha Christie mystery: a small British world, with an emphasis on the puzzle, and a de-emphasis on violence (or sex). Most of the book takes place in a village called Danford in Essex County, England, immediately northeast of London. At times, some characters head back to London. There is a hint of a larger world outside this circumscribed area but not much of one. Granted, we all live, ultimately, in a small world, but we know we are affected by global forces. Presumably, Susan’s restaurant would be affected by global forces as well as local ones. Anyway—some suspension of disbelief here.
But only some. Most Agatha Christie mysteries are engaging, and so is this. This is, in part, because Susan is engaging. While at first there is something unfocused about Susan, she is resolved to keep the dilapidated Blue Moon (a bequest from her great-uncle), and then, after the first murder there, she thinks fast on her feet, showing admirable resourcefulness. When it looks like The Blue Moon will fold due to lack of customers, Susan finds a way to attract business. Meanwhile, she assists Tibbett’s investigation, as here:
Breathless, I watched the picture take shape… [It showed Pargeter with] a sort of chisel in his hand, working away at the flagstone that had covered the incriminating photos… So, here was solid proof. I must get on to Henry [Tibbett] right away. (139)
Susan’s detective work is invaluable. She is smart; several women in this book are smart. Still, Susan falls for the charms of her cousin James mysteriously quickly. This turns out (no surprise) to be dangerous.
From the first, Inspector Tibbett—unlike, for instance, Christie’s Poirot—is jokey and unofficial. His mode of investigation can also be less than official—e.g., assessing gossip at a tea party. He is aboveboard and then cryptic. He comes in close, disappears, and then re-appears secretly. Tibbett has an informality and unpredictability that serves him well.
At one point, Tibbett’s wife Emmy does a bit of shrewd detection. Daphne, housekeeper at The Blue Moon, ably assists Susan’s detection. It seemed there might be a thread of feminism here, but if so the thread quickly breaks at the end, when Susan, reduced to a damsel in distress, turns to the comforts of Inspector Derek Reynolds. So much for that possible theme…
Still, the puzzle of it all, hands down, enthralls!