Murder at the Flood by Mabel Esther Allen

“The Wind came howling from the north across the vast green-grey stretch of the marsh. It had blown all day, menacingly, working Emily up into an ever-increasing state of tension and vague foreboding. Normally she loved the spreading marsh, the distant sea and the long channels of water in which read and blue boats rested, but something about the dead grey sky that had hung over the village of Marshton all day, and some quality in the bitterly cold tireless wind filled her with a nameless fear.”

Yes, storms are like that. When all is well and everyone is safe at home it is wonderful to look out at the majesty of nature from your secure, warm viewpoint. But when you are troubled, when things are not right your world, when you are waiting for loved one to make their way home through wild weather the uncontrollable power of nature can be unsettling and even frightening.

Emily is waiting for her husband Richard, the Vicar of Marston to come home. And he is worried about a letter that he received that morning. She saw that it upset him and then he stuffed it into his pocket and would say nothing about it. Why? What is the secret that he will not tell his wife?

And his wife has a secret of her own. She is being blackmailed by Thomas Long, the unpleasant proprietor of the local garage. Why?

Well Emily has a successful career as detective fiction writer A E Sebastian, but she has kept it quiet in the village. She is sure that the villagers would consider it to be a most unsuitable occupation for their vicar’s wife and she didn’t want to do anything that would reflect badly on him. She loves him dearly, but she is worried that she is not a good vicar’s wife.

I couldn’t help but like Emily and share her care and concerns.

Eventually the vicar does arrive home. And then he and his wife are overtaken by events.

A river breaks its banks, road are flooded and Richard and Emily must rally themselves to help villagers seeking safety at the church and the vicarage, fortunately set on higher ground.

And Thomas Long is found murdered in the churchyard.

There is no shortage of suspects:

  • Young schoolteacher Caroline High was seen in the area. She left the village and returned a changed and unhappy woman. Why?
  • Mr Abel-Otey is a distinguished man, but he has a weakness for pretty young women and had exhanged words with long.
  • Long’s downtrodden wife and daughter were seen nearby too.
  • And the vicar was seen in the churchyard, arguing with Long.

Flood water mean that the police cannot get through and so the churchwardens begin an investigation. They are confident that they will solve the case, but they succeed only in increasing fear and rumour.

Emily is kept busy finding accommodation, food and clothing for the refugees from the flood. And she is worried about Long’s daughter, a bright child, who she has loaned books and tried to encourage, who seems to be taking her father’ death very badly.

A second murder is discovered and the finger of suspicion is pointed firmly at the vicar. Finally, frustrated with the stuttering investigation and fearful that a shadow will always hang over her husband if the murderer is not identified, Emily decides that she must use her own professional talents to uncover the truth.

She talks to people gently, with real concern. She uncovers stories, he comes to understand much more about her friends and neighbours, and in time she realises the terrible truth.

Murder at the Flood is a fine mystery, a little later than the golden age but very much in that style.

But, maybe more importantly, it is a wonderful human story. A vivid and believable portrait of a village community and a natural disater. There is a big picture and there are moving stories of  the individuals caught up in the floods and the investigations. And, of course there is the story of husband and wife at the heart of the books.

The end ties up all of the storylines beautifully, with high drama and very real emotions.

I was story that the story was over and that I had to leave so many interesting characters behind, but I was very satisfied with the way everything worked out.

Mabel Esther Allen is quite simply a wonderful teller of tales in the finest tradition. 

I’m tempted to say that it is a shame that she only wrote one novel for adults. But she wrote many wonderful books for children, the kind of books that have the power to establish a lifelong love of reading, and I would not have any less of those in the world, so I shan’t!