It's not unfair to call Death Has a Past a Forgotten Book, nor its author, Anita Boutell, a Forgotten Author. I had never heard of either of them until I saw a copy of this book in a dealer's catalogue, at quite a hefty price. It was snapped up quickly by someone, and the plot summary seemed intriguing. So I tracked down a cheapish paperback copy to see whether the nice concept was well executed. Short answer - yes, definitely. Boutell seems to me to be a real find.
Death Has a Past was published shortly before the war, and I'm guessing that timing was against Anita Boutell in making a name for herself in the genre. Yet Milward Kennedy, Torquemada and other good judges admired her writing,and I can see why. Boutell was an American who obviously knew England very well,as the English background struck me as entirely credible.Otherwise, I know nothing about her life, and would be glad of further information. And what of her other books - are they as good as this one? And why did she stop writing?
The set-up is this. Claudia Hetherton, a ghastly but rich woman, summons five female family members to her country home She hates them, and they have good reason to hate her. And there are various other hatreds within the group. We know from the start that one person is shot, and that the culprit commits suicide and writes a short confession. But who shot whom, and why?
Boutell maintains the tension very well. This sort of story can become irritating, with lots of neurotic characters getting on each other's nerves, but on the whole she avoids that mistake, and there are several pleasing plot twists. The ending was not what I expected, and I needed to read it again carefully to figure out exactly what had gone on, and to appreciate the subtlety of the wording of the confession. I enjoyed it, and I can recommend it as a rather refreshing book with a difference.