I'll shortly be attending that excellent convention, Malice Domestic, and one of the treats that lie in store will be the chance to talk to fellow writer Katherine Hall Page about the late Patricia Moyes, whose life and work are to be celebrated in the annual Malice Remembers slot. I have dutifully undertaken my preparation, which has included the enjoyable task of reading some books by Patricia Moyes that I'd missed in the past. One is Death on the Agenda, first published in 1962.
The setting is Geneva, a lovely city well evoked, and in particular an international conference about narcotics. Among the attendees is Chief Inspector Henry Tibbett, who is, as usual in Moyes' books, accompanied by his wife Emmy. The conference and the main characters are introduced in rather painstaking fashion, but this otherwise crisp story revs up when the Tibbetts visit a wealthy couple called Paul and Natasha Hampton. Natasha is having an affair with a man called John Trapp, and isn't being very discreet about it.
Henry has already been told that someone is leaking secrets from the conference when he discovers the body of young Trapp, who has been stabbed with a dagger taken from the Hamptons' home. Because very few other people seem to have had the opportunity to commit the crime, Henry soon becomes the improbable prime suspect. Naturally, he sets about trying to find the real culprit. Emmy aids and abets him, but their relationship comes under strain when Henry succumbs to the charms of a glamorous young woman who is working at the conference.
The whodunit mystery turns on a plot device similar to one which Dorothy L. Sayers complained about decades earlier, but I thought Moyes skated over thin ice rather skilfully -and let's face it, that's a knack that crime writers definitely need! Overall, the story is lively and entertaining, and makes for a quick and easy read. This was only Moyes' third book, and she was still finding her feet as a crime writer, but already her craftsmanship is very apparent. Her second husband was an accomplished linguist,, and evidently she gained her insight into the world of translators and of international business conferences while travelling with him. There's a cosmopolitan flavour about her books that makes them quite distinctive, even though they are most notable for their adept updating of the conventions of the traditional murder mystery.