Elizabeth Ferrars (1907-1995), born Morna Doris MacTaggart, was a British crime writer and founding member of the Crime Writers Association who received a special Silver Dagger for lifetime achievement in 1980. Her Golden Age books totaled over 70 in all, written over a period of six decades, from 1932-1995. Her first crime fiction novel, Give a Corpse a Bad Name, led to a successful career as a mystery author in both the U.K. and in the U.S., where her publishers issued her books under the name "E.X. Ferrars."
It's been argued that her popularity hasn't survived well into the late 20th and early 21st centuries due to the lack of a solid series character. Her first attempt was with freelance journalist Toby Dyke (a Lord Peter Wimsey type) and his companion, George, a former criminal whose surname is never revealed. She wrote five Toby Dyke novels over a two-year period, which may be why she suddenly ended the series, adding that she did so because she "got to hate him so much." In the 1970s and 1980s she created a series featuring a semi-estranged married couple, Virginia and Felix Freer, and another with retired botanist, Andrew Basnett. She also penned short stories centering on an elderly detective called Jonas P. Jonas.
Her writing was in the "cozy mystery" vein, and as the Mysterious Bookshop noted, Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine described her as the "writer who may be the closest of all to Agatha Christie in style, plotting and general milieu," while the Washington Post described her as "a consummate professional in clever plotting, characterization and atmosphere."
Murder Among Friends, from 1946 (published in the U.S. as Cheat the Hangman), is one of her 50 standalone novels, and was included by H.R.F. Keating on his 100 best crime fiction books list. The story begins with a party thrown by Cecily Lightwood for her literary and artistic friends, including guest of honor, playwright Aubrey Ritter, who lives in the flat above Cecily's. The group is determined to have a fun evening despite the ever-present danger of air raid wardens looking for blackout infringements in war-time London.
But where is the guest of honor? After he's found murdered upstairs and one of the party-goers arrested and later sentenced to murder, another guest, mousy Alice Church, finds herself so obsessed with the crime and doubting the verdict, that she sets about playing detective. With the help of Alice's scientist-husband Oliver, she puzzles her way through to discover the real murderer, thanks to her quiet, persistent insight and her husband's eye for detail.
By today's crime fiction (and even cozy) standards, Murder Among Friends seems to be a fairly genteel psychological study of complicated, intertwined relationships, which might be considered quaint in its depiction of sexual attractions. Yet, as Keating tells it, in 1946, Ferrars's regular publishers refused to publish the book because "detective stories couldn't be this steamy."
Although she's said to have based many characters and situations on people she knew and things she'd experienced in real life, it's not known to what degree that plays a role here. But with the long character portraits Alice extracts from her questioning of the key players, it wouldn't take much of a leap to guess that Ferrars emphasis on the emotional makeup of her characters was drawn from a keen eye of observation; or, as a character in her book The Small World of Murder puts it, "Murder's generally an intimate sort of thing. It happens in a small world, a little shut-in world of violent feelings."