Dorothy Violet Bowers (1902-1948) was born in Leominster, the daughter of a confectioner. The family moved to Monmouth in 1903 where her father ran his own bakery until he retired in 1936. Educated at the Monmouth High School for Girls, Bowers received a scholarship for Oxford and, displaying the dogged tenacity evident throughout her short life, sat the Latin entrance exam three times before she was finally accepted. Women had only recently been able to get degrees at Oxford and Bower’s sister Evelyn also joined her there, which suggests a familial focus on education. In 1926, Bowers graduated from the Society of Oxford Home-Students (now St Anne’s College) with a third class honours degree in Modern History, and spent the next few years pursuing a career as a history teacher. Subsequent letters to her college principal documented her worries about family finances (“my father….our university careers have been a heavy expense to him.”) and her desire to break away from Monmouth (“I have a dread of finding work in a small pleasant county-town such as this. The temptation to crystallize would be too great.”) Temporary jobs teaching history and English did not inspire her and she turned to writing; letters to friends documented the slow, uphill battle to get published. During this time, she supplemented her income by compiling crossword puzzles for John O’London Weekly under the pseudonym “Daedalus”.
Bowers published four Inspector Pardoe novels in rapid succession: Postscript To Poison (1938), Shadows Before (1939), A Deed Without A Name (1940), and Fear For Miss Betony (1941). Fear For Miss Betony was heralded by the Times of London as the best mystery of 1941, stating “Every page bears witness to a brain of uncommon powers”. The outbreak of war brought Bowers to London, where she worked in the European News Service of the BBC. Her final book, The Bells at Old Bailey, was published in 1947, with Pardoe replaced by another Scotland Yard detective, Raikes. Never of robust health, Bowers contracted tuberculosis during this period and eventually succumbed to the disease in August, 1948. She died knowing that she had been inducted into the prestigious Detection Club, the only writer selected for membership in 1948. (Source: Moonstone Press)
Dorothy Bowers was possibly an author I would have overlooked had it not been for the opinion of J F Norris at Pretty Sinister Books.
Fear For Miss Betony has been reviewed, among others, by Martin Edwards at ‘Do You Write Under Your Own Name?’, Dead Yesterday, Laurie Kelley at Bedford Bookshelf, Curtis Evans at The Passing Tramp, and Rekha Rao at The Book Decoder.
(Facsimile Dust Jacket, Hodder & Stoughton (UK), 1941)
Former governess Emma Betony is living in quiet and boring retirement when two unexpected letters arrive. The first is a lonely hearts magazine, with an entry
(“Lonely Batchelor, age 49, good health, comfortable income, seeks friendship of unattached lady with view to matrimony”) highlighted by the anonymous sender. The second is an appeal for help from a former student. Grace Aram is running Makeways, a struggling boarding school for girls, newly relocated to a site of former nursing home in Dorset. Grace isn’t interested in Miss Betony’s teaching skills—she wants a trusted friend to help identify the culprit behind a series of troubling events. Two nursing patients have remained at Makeways and one appears to be the victim of a poisoner. It is not clear who could be responsible for the ongoing trickle of arsenic found in Miss Thurloe’s drinks- the new abrasive doctor, the pragmatic nurse, the nervous teaching staff or the high-strung students. During her investigations, Miss Betony uncovers an overwhelming sense of fear on the part of Makeways’ inhabitants, and clues that lead to the Great Ambrosio, a charismatic fortune-teller, who seems to have an undue influence on various teachers, students – and Miss Thurloe.
First published in 1941, Fear and Miss Betony marks the final appearance of Chief Inspector Dan Pardoe—but it is Miss Betony herself who fights through fear and solves the case. Contemporary critics proclaimed the book an instant classic, with an ingenious plot.