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A DEAD MAN IN MALTA by Michael Pearce


by Michael Pearce

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-56947-878-3
Publisher: Soho Constable

Do-good ladies and do-bad gents discombobulate 1913 Malta.

When Mrs. Wynne-Gurr, Chair of the West Surrey branch of the St. John Ambulance Association (nursing volunteers), visits Malta, teeming with purebred Maltese, unassimilated Arabs and occupying Brits, she deems a minor anomaly to be a major catastrophe and summons Scotland Yard. Off goes Seymour of the Yard to ferret out why two British seamen and one German balloonist, each admitted to the hospital for nonlife-threatening health problems, suddenly wind up dead. Mrs. Wynne-Gurr assumes it’s the dire laxity of nursing care, but is it really? While she tut-tuts her way around the hospital, an infiltrator has joined her group: Seymour’s mistress Chantale. Her fancied Mediterranean tryst with her beau disallowed by the Yard, she pretends to be eager to start up an Ambulance outpost in her hometown of Tangier, and is in need of advice. Also scurrying about are Felix and Sophia, school kids doing term papers on the hospital, started in the 1500s, and the unsuitable British sway over Malta and the need for local rebellion. Dr. Malia, a retired member of the hospital staff, now convinced war is imminent, skulks about taking measurements to increase patient capacity, while Susie, a very friendly gal, has regular assignations in various hospital corners. Meanwhile, local bands are vying to see who can blare loudest at parties, staff nurses falter in their allegiances and Seymour must figure out how, when and by whom hospital security was breached. He is helped in this task by Inspector Lucca but mostly put upon by everyone else until his impeccable reasoning uncovers all.

An amusing period tale. Seymour’s seventh outing (Dead in Naples, 2009, etc.) shows a dry wit and an engaging touch with political folderol, familial brouhahas and mystery logistics.