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Mystery Monday Review – Hand of Fate

Hand of Fate by Michael Underwood

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

Frank Wimple made three million pounds from three hundred with ability, drive, confidence and, he said with a wolfish smile, ruthlessness. His forceful ways have made him no friends in the village. So when his wife Elspeth disappears, dark rumors fly such that the police have to ask questions about murder most foul. But with no corpus delicti they can’t be sure that Frank’s explanation – “she left me” – is a falsehood. But the hand of fate intervenes when it places in a black lab’s mouth Elspeth’s skeletal left hand.

On the fleshless finger, a wedding ring – inscription and all.

So Frank ends up in the dock, accused of murder. Though aggrieved he is not allowed out on bail and a woman judge is presiding, he’s confident no evidence connects him to Elspeth’s demise.

The trial is generally what this 1981 crime novel is about, though Underwood – for no reason except that it’s diverting and fun – examines aspects of the ordinary lives of the woman judge and members of the jury. This doesn’t advance the story but it gives a striking depth to the characters. It might be that he wants us to remember that, unseen, everybody is living a life as vivid to them as ours is to us.

I recommend this stand-alone novel because the craft is so effortless and unobtrusive. From the get-go, Underwood concisely builds well-done characters and makes action flow smoothly. The other appeal of this novel is that it’s not too long, as mysteries tended to become as the 1980s went on. Underwood carries on the “short crime novel” tradition of the 1960s and 1970s in the manner of Michael Gilbert, Andrew Garve, P.D. James and Ruth Rendell.

Michael Underwood was the penname for John Michael Evelyn (1916-1992). He was called to the Bar in 1939 and after WWII he worked in the Department of Public Prosecution. Perhaps one of those lucky people that don’t need much sleep, he wrote 48 crime novels, starring series heroes such as Martin Ainsworth (barrister spy) and Simon Manton (police inspector). Nine of this novels were stand-alones and this 1981 effort was his last stand-alone, after which he turned his attention to his successful series with the heroine Rosa Epton (lawyer) until he passed away in 1992.





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