For years, the Forst family, sheepherders in the Australian outback’s remote Leumah Valley, have depended on the bounty of matriarchal Ella Forst. Now Ella is dead, leaving her grandson Gregory as her sole heir. Hudson Forst and Diana McGuire, the nephew and niece she’d taken in as children, are left penniless, along with their dazed spouses, Marcia Forst and Billy McGuire; Hudson’s daughter Wilma; and Ella’s goddaughter Rowena Searle. The murder of a wandering swagman, poisoned with cyanide in the middle of a raging brush fire, brings all the family’s suspicion and hatred to a flashpoint. Was the tramp killed because he knew too much about Gregory’s take-charge fiancée, Linda Condrick, who came out of nowhere four months ago to nurse Ella Forst in her final illness and has since been found in possession of a valuable brooch that went missing the day Ella died? Or has some resentful member of the Forst clan found grasping Linda an irresistible target for suspicions that should lodge much closer to home? Only endless rounds of patient questioning by Inspector Quince, of the city police, and another murder will reveal the final weary skeleton in the family closet.
A vintage 1962 whodunit: clever, understated, and altogether expert, though its did-she-or-didn’t-she dynamic lacks the edge marking the best of the eight mysteries by Carlon (Death by Demonstration, 2001, etc.) already to reach American shores.