Sunday, August 05, 2007

Go, Lovely Rose - Jean Potts

First published 1954; cover shown is the 1963 Penguin Books (UK) paperback edition. Cover art by George Mayhew. 201 pages.

Rose Henshaw had an acid tongue, a cold heart and a spiteful nature. When she was found dead, presumably having accidentally fallen down a flight of stairs, there were few mourners and many quietly pleased local residents.

Rose had been old Doc Buckmaster's housekeeper. She had "cared" for his two motherless children - the eldest, Rachel, had escaped to Chicago simply to get away from the cruel taunts and vindictive behaviour... and the youngest, Hartley, had inexplicably remained with Rose.

Rachel returns to her small home town to find Hartley wandering from bar to bar, asking where he was the night of Rose's death: he can't remember. When Rose's eerily lookalike sister arrives to collect the body and starts asking questions, the previously innocent death is revealed as murder, and Hartley is promptly charged and locked in the county jail.

With the help of the town's new doctor, Craig, and Bix, the teenage daughter of Hugh Bovard, her father's old friend, Ruth starts asking questions of her own. Why had her father kept Rose as his housekeeper for all those years, even though he knew what she was doing to his children? Could Rose's ex-husband, Francis, be the real killer? And why had Hartley remained with Rose when he could have escaped to Chicago with her?

This is an enjoyable mystery, with a fast plot and engaging characters - particularly Rachel herself, who starts out as a rather vain creature but quickly becomes wholly likeable when she meets Dr Craig. Teenage waif Bix is an interesting combination of adolescent awkwardness and sad old soul. The author's attitude toward Down Syndrome and the ending of this novel were the sole let-downs, with the ending seeming ridiculous after what came before.

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