I'm not sure I really know what to make of Mary Fitt, the author of today's Forgotten Book, Death on Heron's Mere. She was a writer of genuine talent, with insight into character and an interest in the unorthodox as well as a formidable intellect - the Fitt name concealed the identity of a distinguished classicist, Kathleen Freeman. She was a member of the Detection Club, and to this day many of her books are keenly sought after by collectors,and first editions command steep prices. There's a lot to like - and yet...
When I've read her books, I've found that the excellence of the ingredients has sometimes not been matched by the quality of the whole novel. Death on Heron's Mere is a case in point. It's a country house murder story, complete with map of the mere, and it features the amiable if rather colourless Inspector Mallett (Cyril Hare's police detective had the same name but a stronger personality.) The book was published in 1941, and the plot involved industrial espionage to assist the Germans, yet on the whole the impact of war does not disturb the characters half as much as their prolonged family wranglings.
I felt the book got off to a poor start because a large number of characters were introduced very quickly, and never fully recovered. Fitt evidently took pains to ensure that the main people are more than ciphers included for the sake of the plot, but did not - in my opinion - do quite enough here to involve us with their emotions. As a result, I wasn't as concerned to find out who had shot Simon Gabb's son - and tried to make it look like suicide - as I should have been.
One of the interesting features of this book is the idea of the displaced gentry - the family which owned the big house has now been exiled, and there are newcomers at the Hall. The theme of the old ruling class falling on hard times crops up in several of Henry Wade's books, and also in Agatha Christie's Dead Man's Folly, but for me Wade and Christie do a better job of engaging the reader with the story while making their points about changes in society..This is an interesting book (it was lent to me by a Golden Age expert who rates it highly, and for whose judgment I have great respect) but overall, I found it disappointing. If you plan to give Mary Fitt a try, I wouldn't recommend starting here.