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FFB: Shroud of Canvas

Isobel Mary Lambot (1926-2001) was from a family of readers in Birmingham, England, but she didn't turn to writing until 1960. She served first in the Women's Royal Air Force then as a teacher before marrying in 1959 a Belgian engineer whose work took him to Third World countries. That was the launching point for Lambot's travels around the world, experiences that would later turn up in her writing—including her Russian-exile Commissaire Orloff who appeared in two novels and was inspired from a period spent in France. In fact, Lambot's very first Crime novel was written in Jamaica, and although never published, it connected her with her literary agent.

In all, she published some 20 crime novels, including police procedurals, political thrillers and standalone detective stories based in such locations as Ceylon and the Congo, translated into German, Italian, Portuguese and Swedish under the Lambot name or the pseudonyms Daniel Ingham and Mary Turner. She also had a nonfiction book, How to Write Crime Novels, published in 1992, taught creative writing, lectured to writers' groups and presented "Whodunit" evenings.

She was definitely of her time and the social mores of the day, once saying, "My aim is to entertain, not to preach, but certain moral values underlie my work all the same. I prefer old-fashioned virtues, such as Crime Does Not Pay, while obviously in real life it does! I don't like the permissive society, and make sure my heroines get decently married at the end. If any of my characters leap into bed with each other, it is essential to the plot, and they usually regret it." But she also understood the writing process well, adding that "People write because they want to. It is an inner compulsion. Crime writers write to entertain, to give a little relaxation in a world of stress. It is very hard work." 

Sadly, late in life as a widow she had rapid onset of Alzheimer's disease and after being moved to a nursing home, left one day and was last seen walking into the countryside. As a family member noted, the author's final mystery was like her novels, as a massive search operation was set up with police and volunteers until her body was found against a tree in Yeld Wood. But she probably would have appreciated the funeral—as the hearse drove from the Church in Kington to the Crematorium in Hereford, a lone buzzard flew over the coffin and screeched.

Her novels, such as the 1967 Shroud of Canvas, use a plain straightforward style to good effect, weaving character sketches and interpersonal relationships to help build suspense. The main POV protagonist in "Canvas"  is Rosalind, a young widow with a daughter, who had cut all ties with her family during her first disastrous marriage and has recently married a man she's only known for six months, Geoffrey Lennard, founder of a plastics company.

When Rosalind receives a telephone call from Geoffrey's former fiancée whom Rosalind knew nothing about, it sets in motion a series of mysteries and deaths beginning with the murder of the ex-fiancée in the Lennard garden. As evidence and suspicion begins to mount against Geoffrey, Rosalind's newfound happiness is in jeopardy even as she unwaveringly believes in the innocence of her husband. With the help of a surprising ally, Detective Sergeant Barry Thornley, and his boss, Superintendent Longton, Rosaline pursues the truth, dodging the whispers and doubts from the local community admidst a backdrop of industrial espionage and power struggles.

And yet...Rosalind does wonder, as this excerpt indicates, although it also shows Lambot's effective sparse style and how she creates conflict:

There was a nightmare sense of repetition. Was she doomed to sit at the breakfast table each morning waiting for an explanation that never came?...She had wandered round the silent house all evening, waiting for the sound of Geoffrey's car, wishing one moment that Sally was not away for the night, glad at another that she was not there to witness her mother's anxiety.

In desperation, she had phoned the office but there was no reply. Not that it meant anything. Geoffrey could have told the switchboard not to leave him connected with an outside line, so that he could get on with his work in peace...

But the previous evening he had gone to meet Anne...

Shroud of Canvas may date from the late 60s, but it follows true British Golden Age tradition, filled with skillfully placed clues and red herrings alike and ending with a closed circle of suspects gathered together to hear the revelation of the murderer's identity. And of course, in the end, Crime Does Not Pay.


This post first appeared on In Reference To Murder, please read the originial post: here

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FFB: Shroud of Canvas


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