Technically a Miss Marple novel, although the little old lady from St Mary Mead barely appears in this one, not even being introduced until the final third of the book. It’s told from the viewpoint of Jerry Burton, a war-wounded pilot who has taken a house in the small town of Lymstock to spend a few months recuperation somewhere in the country away from his friends. His doctor’s advice was to take an interest in local politics and scandal as a way of keeping his brain occupied without stressing him. Jerry and his sister Joanna get an early opportunity to do just that, when they receive a poison pen letter. when they find that they’re not the first, they decide to track down the writer, almost as a game. But the game turns deadly serious when one of the recipients is found dead by poison, with a note saying “I can’t go on”.
Jerry’s continued interest in the case is welcomed by the police, for as the officer in charge of the investigation points out, as an incomer he doesn’t have pre-existing biases, but as a resident he will hear things that people will be reluctant to tell the police. And so Jerry gets to see in fine detail how scandal and gossip work in a small community, with the phrase “no smoke without fire” as a running theme of village conversation.
This is an excellent study of village gossip, with some fine character studies. The main disappointment is the portrayal of Miss Marple herself, who seems a curiously flat character in this book. I think I would have enjoyed it more had I known when starting it that Jerry is the primary investigative character as well as the narrator.