I met Pamela Branch only once, at a dinner party given by the literary agent David Higham and his wife. Pamela was strikingly beautiful, with large eyes, curious as a cat’s. The talk turned to an author whose new novel was getting a lot of attention and I remarked that her husband had recently died. ‘How did she do it?’ asked Pamela with interest, ‘Poison, was it?’
Pamela had already published her fourth novel, Murder’s Little Sister, which begins,
The yellow cushion looked too frivolous in the oven, so Enid Marley went and fetched a black one. That did not look right either, but it could not be helped. Since she had no intention whatever of dying, she was determined to make herself as comfortable as possible . . .
She had thought it all out with great care, planned each detail, revised it, scrutinized it from every angle. She knew well that it was a drastic ploy, but it was the only one left untried. Somehow, she had to recapture her husband. It was not that she loved nor even liked him, but to be deserted by no less than three men – all of whom had quite frankly married her for her money – was ridiculous, humiliating, monotonous.
She was born Pamela Jean Byatt on 27 November 1920 in Ceylon, the daughter of a tea-planter. Her upbringing was that of a conventional colonial girl – or was it? Her earliest memory was of trying to persuade an elephant to swallow a home-made aspirin the size of a croquet ball. (The elephant did not oblige.) She claimed to have lived in Kashmir, learned Urdu, hunted with guns and with falcons, trained racehorses. The last at least seems unlikely; she later wrote, ‘I hate and fear horses. There are a lot in the field next door. They watch me doing my face in the mornings. Our eyes lock. And it’s perfectly apparent that they will never understand me and I never want to understand them a
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