Someone from the Past by Margot Bennett – Review

someone from the past margot bennett book review (2)

By Sarah Morgan

Love, glamour, deceit and jealousy all feature in Margot Bennett’s eighth novel, originally published in 1955 and now receiving a new lease of life courtesy of the British Library’s wonderful Classic Crime series.

I’ve read several in the run, including Bennett’s previous books, The Man Who Didn’t Fly and The Widow of Bath. Maybe I’ve just been lucky with my choices, but I haven’t come across a bad one yet – and Someone from the Past is easily one of the best.

The narrator is Nancy, a headstrong young career woman working as a freelance writer who, while out with her beau, bumps into her old friend Sarah. She reveals she’s been receiving disturbing letters and asks Nancy – who, it turns out, has an enquiring mind – to look into the matter on her behalf. Then, the next morning, Nancy discovers Sarah has been murdered, prompting her to take the notes more seriously – and to make a series of pretty terrible decisions.

Before long, thanks to her bungling if well-meaning ways, she has become the prime suspect. Nevertheless, she figures out that the real killer must be among the four men who had, at various times, been bewitched by Sarah’s beauty.

someone from the past margot bennett book review (1)“Flawed individual”

As Nancy pieces together the story, we learn more about the victim’s past, how she came from humble beginnings but was determined to make something of herself, a fact that led her into the orbit of various individuals who may or may not have wanted her dead after she cast them aside.

Bennett’s approach to the genre isn’t a conventional one. Instead of simply being a stereotypical mystery, it’s a character study of the suspects and the victim, a flawed individual who made mistakes but nevertheless didn’t deserve to die.

In fact, the author seems at great pains to point out that nobody is perfect or above suspicion – each figure, including Nancy herself, could have done the deed, and each of them makes errors while either trying to prove their innocence or hide their guilt.

It’s a masterful work, full of twists, turns, red herrings and several clues that readers probably won’t spot at first.

Bennett may not be as well as known as some of her contemporaries, but she deserves to be. Her output is, to coin a phrase, small but beautifully formed. Here’s hoping more reissues, including of her science fiction titles, are in the pipeline.

‘Someone from the Past’ by Margot Bennett is published by the British Library


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