By Les Blatt (Classic Mysteries) | There really wasn't any reason why Chief Inspector Henry Tibbett and his wife, Emmy, shouldn't go off with friends for a vacation that would be spent learning how to sail. The harbor at Berrybridge Haven was admirably suited for such an expedition. And the holiday certainly started off well. It wasn't until Henry began hearing stories about a most unfortunate accident that resulted in the drowning death of an old sailor named Pete Rawnsley that Henry's professional instincts kicked in. His "nose," as he called his intuition, found too many odd things in the story of Rawnsley's death that pointed to murder. And he'd very soon be proved right. It happens in a book called The Sunken Sailor in the U. K. (and Down Among the Dead Men in the U.S.), a most excellent mystery written in 1961 by Patricia Moyes.
I have been hoping for some time that some publisher would bring back the wonderful Henry and Emmy Tibbett mysteries by Patricia Moyes. She wrote 19 of them, all fine mysteries in the best traditions of both classic, plot-oriented mysteries in general, and the Golden Age in particular. Now, Felony & Mayhem Press has begun offering these books in a new edition, making the Tibbett books available to a new generation of readers. The Sunken Sailor was the second book in the series, and it's much about the sport of sailing as it is about murder.
The Tibbetts are invited by friends to join them for two weeks of sailing in the waters off Britain’s east coast. Their headquarters for this vacation is the town of Berrybridge Haven, a picturesque, if tiny, port. Henry only wants to relax and enjoy this rare opportunity to spend time away from the job, and—at first—it certainly seems as if that’s what’s going to happen. But along the way, Henry begins to hear about a still-fairly-recent tragedy—the death of a rather crusty sailor named Pete Rawnsley. Pete died in a kind of freak accident, drowning in just a few inches of water. At least, the coroner, the police, and many of the other sailors who kept their boat at the port agreed that it had been an accident. A few of the locals, though, swapping stories in the local pub which served as a kind of headquarters for the visiting sailor men and women, weren’t convinced that it had been an accident at all.
As Henry Tibbett listened to their stories about Rawnsley’s death, he found himself more and more troubled by the inconsistencies he found in those stories—things which just didn’t add up properly. He didn’t want to investigate—he only wanted to enjoy his vacation. But what Henry called his “nose” told him that there were too many loose ends in that story for it to be true. It certainly seemed that he was hearing a lot of lies from a surprising number of people. And it wasn’t very long before there was another, very similar, death to prove that Henry’s nose was quite right. All of this is woven into a story about the pleasures (and occasional risks) of sailing, as seen through the eyes of Henry and Emmy, a couple of warm and wonderful characters. I am delighted that these books are coming back into print, and I urge you to meet the Tibbetts. They're delightful people, and Henry is a first-rate police detective.
Click here for Les Blatt's wonderful appreciation of Patricia Moyes in all its podcast glory.