Patricia Wentworth is an author that I have (hithertooooooo) completely overlooked. I'm not sure why I've never spotted her - possibly her name reminds me of another author that I don't care for, possibly it's just another example of my scatty approach to enjoying detective stories. Anyway, she's one of the golden oldies of vintage crime, and I was put on to her by a tip on a forum I frequent. Also, I'd just come across the name at the back of a Cyril Hare book, I think, because it rang a bell as soon as I'd read it. Another example of coincidence being all over this thing we call life. So I skedaddled over to the library and borrowed everything they had to offer - not much, sadly - because as I said, I need to indulge in a bit of crime fiction for a bit.
A novel by Wentworth is easily read in one night's work (if you work nights as I do). They are heavily tinged with the author's other literary bent, namely that as penner of romance novels. There is always a young couple in it, who are in love but don't at first realise it, or are thwarted by one of them being suspects in the murder, or something to that effect. At the end they of course fall happily into an embrace for ever after - it's really rather Austen-esque. One of the novels I read now, The Gazebo, even has a Persuasion theme - years ago, the unfeeling relations forced the young couple apart, but now they meet again etc. Sweet!
Our detective hero is Miss Maud Silver, who used to be a governess but now runs a private enquiry agency. I love this old-fashioned term for private eye by the way. It's very quaint. Miss Silver is one of those old ladies who finds out a load of things simply by always knitting and looking old and harmless - a bit like Miss Marple, but not as draconian. As a recall Miss Marple, she can be quite hard-core: a staunch supporter of the death penalty for example. Wouldn't surprise me if she in one book or other advocates the rod as the best aid in child-rearing - Miss Silver however in The Watersplash clearly says that if you beat a child you've failed at raising it. I find myself a little untaken with Miss Silver though despite all this, mostly due to Wentworth giving her an annoying cough, that she uses to punctuate her speech at The Important Moments. Dreadfully irritating. Other than that she's rather grand. A random thing I really like is that Miss Silver is in at least three of the books I think is knitting baby vests in pink wool. She does this regardless of the sex of the child - in two cases she doesn't know it as it's not yet born. Wonderful. I choose to see this as proof of the somewhat controversial statement that pink was a colour for boys up until the 50s or so (Miss Silver is knitting unisex pink during that decade).
I've read, in this order, Spotlight (1949), The Gazebo (1955), The Key (1946) and The Watersplash (1954). All four as you can see set in the war and post-war era, with references to rationing, egg substitute, bombings and happiness at pink wool finally being available again after so many years of khaki. The Key is set smack in the middle of the war and has a spy theme, even. Spotlight is the oldest edition, from 1952, and has this great romantic retro cover that seems to have been the norm for Wentworth novels for a while, since The Key and The Gazebo are re-prints from 2005 and have the same style artwork on the front. Cute but a little embarrassing to read in public, if you are a little vain, as I am. Whatever did people who saw me think? The Watersplash has a horribly lurid MURDER!!! cover photo though, printed in -88 that one is. The first and last of the books listed are old enough to be dotted through with comments by the crime aficionado/proof reader who haunts the pages of all older crime novels the library possesses, at least in the English section. Haven't come across her (I think it's a her) for ages! I wonder why she stopped commenting? Is she dead? Or did she just move? Or stop reading? Check the link and you'll see that I asked myself these questions before.
Spotlight: the only one where the murder takes place in a country house in manner of a classic whodunnit. A young woman, Dorinda, takes a job as private secretary to a rather indolent wife of a wealthy man. They are all invited to visit a business accquaintance of the husband's. All the guests are oddly ill-matched and make up an awkward house party. When their host is found murdered it transpires that he was blackmailing them all. Fascinating little thing: Dorinda is supposed to have unusual colouring with hair and eyes the same shade of gold, and her cousin fervently hopes that she'll not start tinting her eyelashes, they are so beautiful as they are. Imagine that these days when mascara is such a norm. Sigh.
The Gazebo: See above. The evil relation (mother) is found strangled. Did the thwarted fiancé do it? Or has it got something to do with the fact that two people seem oddly keen on buying the young lady's house, no matter the cost?
The Key: an inventor and refugee from a concentration camp has finally finished the explosive he's been working on for so long. Immediately after announcing this fact he is murdered. Warum?
The Watersplash: a young man returns after being missing for five years. Everyone thought he was dead, including the rich uncle who made a new will and left everything to his own brother. But was that really the end of it all? A local drunk who claims to have witnessed an even newer will is found dead in the local watersplash (whatever that is, I have to look this up when I get home - is it a glorified word for puddle?). Somebody is killing those few who might have an inkling that there is something odd with the wills…
I can't say I have a favourite, because to be honest they are all pretty much the same. The plot is fair - good workmanship throughout. They're not proper whodunnits I'd say, as evidence keeps falling in all through the book. I liked them though and will definitely keep a look-out for more! - the library has none so it'll have to be careful second-hand browsing and possibly a bit of an E-bay spree. But not for a while, I must be good now. I've been too liberal lately.
Oh, final note: what I especially like about vintage crime is that you do learn something, honest, while enjoying yourself. I've learned during this recent spree that the expression originally was "to make up" and not "to apply make-up" or "put make-up on". Very educational.