Bibliophile reviews Flight of a Witch (mystery)

Author: Ellis Peters
No. in series: 3
Series detective: George Felse
Year published: 1964
Pages: 247
Type of mystery: Murder
Type of detective: Police and amateurs
Setting and time: Wales, 1960’s
Some themes: Murder, robbery, obsession

The Story: A young man sees Annet, the daughter of his landlord, walking up a mountain. She returns five days later but maintains that she has been away only 2 hours, counting on being believed because of stories of such things having happened before on the mountain. However, she looks like the young woman seen standing near a jewellery store where an old man was murdered and robbed, and the police suspect that her male companion is guilty of the crime. But Annet refuses to talk, and Felse has a hard time solving the mystery and finding her lover.

Review: I have read a couple of Ellis Peter’s Brother Cadfael mysteries and one non-series book, and therefore could not include her in the challenge. But this is my first acquaintance with Inspector Felse.

The story is not only a mystery, it is also a twisted love story. Finding the man in the case is of prime importance because Felse thinks he may try to kill the only person who knows who he is, Annet. She, on the other hand, obviously loves him so much that she would rather die than see him hang for the murder (the story happens while the death penalty was still in force in Britain). So far so good.

The characters are variously drawn, some very well, some not so. Unfortunately Felse is one of the less well drawn. He hardly seems to have a personality, but I will forgive that as he’s a series character and may either have been described better in a previous book or will develop through the following books. Here he is hardly anything more than a thinking machine. The young woman, Annet, is well drawn but rather unbelievable. She is so bewitchingly lovely that all men either fall in love with her or want to protect her, and she just gets to be massively annoying before the end, with her hysteria and obsession. I couldn’t summon up any sympathy for her at all. As to her lover, it is rather unbelievable that she would have fallen for such a man, but of course we know that love is irrational. I guess what I want to say is that the feelings of the characters are rather too passionate for my taste, and the ending too highly dramatic.

SPOILER ahead


Since Peters has sympathy with the killer, she allows him a way out of being judged and hung, something which has really started to annoy me in stories written about time periods and places where the death penalty is in force, because the alternatives are so few that all have been used ad nauseam by soft hearted authors. These alternatives are flight, incarceration in an institute for the criminally insane, a milder sentence due to extenuating circumstances, and death: by suicide, accident or getting killed by pursuers while trying to escape. I have read so many books that use these devices that I am really beginning to hate them. If a writer can not lead the criminal to her or his logical end or find an original way of rescuing them from the gallows, they should stick to other kinds of mysteries.

Rating: A tale of murder, obsession and doomed love. 2+ stars.

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