It’s Crystal Balaclava’s seventieth birthday, and as usual her three daughters Primrose, Violet and Daffodil travel from various locations to join their mother at the family estate at Plumley Green, Surrey. This year is different. This year Crystal requests police protection and pulls strings to achieve her desire. She specifically requests that Detective Chief Superintendent Henry Tibbett and his wife Emmy be present for the birthday celebration. She’s been tipped off by her Ouija board that she’s in danger and since Crystal always listens to her Ouija board, Tibbett and his wife Emmy find themselves staying at Foxes Trot.
The Tibbetts are not the usual sort of guests for Crystal. Crystal may be 70 but she’s stuck in her youth as a flapper, and so she tends to surround herself with people who are amusing and giddy. Henry and Emmy are rather pedestrian compared to the usual crowd. Crystal, who has a hard bitchy edge, is well drawn.
It took Henry a moment to register that fact that she was still a beautiful woman, because the overwhelming first impression was so bizarre. The Henna-dyed bobbed hair, the bandeau, the short, unwaisted dress of drooping yellow crepe, the bright red cupid’s bow painted on wrinkled lips, the pearly white-stocking, the foot-long jade cigarette-holder–they all added up not to a parody of the fashion of forty years ago, but to the thing itself.
Crystal is the sort of person who dominates the room, and dislikes female competition, so when she meets Henry and Emmy, she immediately launches some nasty barbs at Emmy. It’s obvious that Emmy is there for window dressing, so poor Emmy suffers from Crystal’s sharp edges.
Crystal fears that death will come in the form of poison, and she expects Henry to act, more or less, as a food taster. One daughter always brings a birthday cake, another a case of champagne, and another roses. In spite of Henry’s best efforts to protect Crystal she dies from poison.
It’s too bad Crystal makes an early exit as she’s a strong character (bet Emmy wasn’t really that upset). In fact the person who seems the most devastated by the murder is Crystal’s life long companion (since becoming a widow) Dolly, whose “mannish face was coated in a thick layer of pancake make-up, in a grotesque parody of femininity.” (ouch!) Dolly manages the entire household and while Crystal considered Dolly a bit dense, Dolly, in reality, is an incredible person. There are a limited number of suspects. The estate is tied up until Crystal’s death at which time it will pass to her daughters–each have their own reasons for needing money.
While the characters of Henry and Emmy were pleasant enough, the tale itself rather goes through the motions. With Crystal lying dead, still warm, Henry and the local doc share a chuckle over the body without seeming to realise the innate distastefulness of their actions. The result is a crime book that’s more an exercise for readers who prefer their crime light but puzzling enough they can try to discover the solution as they read.