Time for another round of Bookshelf Traveling in Insane Times which was created by Judith at Reader in the Wilderness and now hosted by Katrina at Pining for the West, on opposite sides of the Atlantic. The idea is to share one (or three) of your neglected bookshelves or perhaps another pile of books.
|Three shelves of Patricia Wentworth!|
This is a quick post (or was meant to be) because it is the first weekend of the semester, which means homework in my two classes, Collection Development and Library Management. And although I was planning to take next week off, I have an overdue grant that must be finished before I can take any vacation from work. But I swear by Tuesday I will have turned off my alarm and will be sleeping late or reading in the hammock instead of trying to motivate my department from dawn to dusk. Six months of working from home has been challenging for everyone, and those with children are especially worried about today’s news that Boston schools will both delay the start and conduct classes remotely.
Given I am not a big fan of cozy mysteries, why do I like these books? Well, I like the tropes of mid-20th century English crime fiction: the orphan heiresses with jealous relatives, the missing wills, a rich individual terrorizing family members by threatening their inheritance, the house parties where someone is murdered, plucky young people trying to make a living by taking jobs that sound much better than they turn out (story of my life), the worried clients who are afraid to confide in the unassuming ex-governess but find themselves unburdening themselves, the characters who overlook Miss Silver and accidentally reveal too much, the loyal heroines and self-sacrificing heroes, and the way order is always restored at the end. That said, some are definitely better than others. Here are a few of my favorites:
Anne Belinda (1927) - Anne Belinda has disappeared, and every time John Waveney mentions her name there is an ominous silence. He doesn’t know if she wants to be found but he feels compelled to try because of an encounter they had before the war. This is a standalone without Miss Silver.
Fool Errant (1929) – this is a Benbow Smith book, first in a four-book series with an espionage theme. The hero is down on his luck and accepts a job that is too good to be true – and leads to murder.
Grey Mask (1928) - is the first Miss Silver book, so is obviously the best place to start! You know I don’t approve of starting mid-series although with Wentworth it used to be you had to start with whatever book you were lucky enough to find! Like several of her books, a key element of the story is something that happens in the dark or out of sight. Here, Charles Moray overhears something about a murder at sea, inheritance, ad missing documents, and when a murder takes place, he feels compelled to follow up – with help from Miss Silver.
Silence in Court (1947) – When Carey Silence is left penniless, she is grateful to be invited to stay with a rich old friend of her grandmother’s, at her London home. But when Honoria is killed, Carey is the primary suspect, with few defenders and no Miss Silver in this one.
Through the Wall (1950) – When Martin Brand makes a will leaving everything to a niece he barely knows, Marian learns to claim her legacy she will have to share the divided house with relatives who resent her. Miss Silver will have to be summoned to save the day.
The Wicked Uncle / aka Spotlight (1947) – a classic and chilling story! Gregory Porlock invites all his blackmail victims to dinner, and when he's stabbed to death, the police find all the guests had both motive and opportunity. The police need help (as they often do) from Miss Silver to solve this one (I have an extra copy if anyone would like it).
The first Wentworth I read was She Came Back (1945) with this exact cover, an impersonation story lent to my sister by a junior high friend (coincidentally, we ran into her friend in March at a production of Newsies featuring her niece and our nephew, after not seeing her since the 80s!) But I don’t think I started reading Wentworth seriously until the 90s when various publishers started reprinting her books. As I look at my shelves, I see Warner, Bantam, Pyramid mass market edition, then Harper issued many of the Miss Silver books in quality trade paper editions. Lippincott was her American publisher and I paid more for than I should have for several hardcovers, and on the bottom shelf you can see eight bulky photocopies of books that were long out of print and impossible to find (once I called a library that had so generously sent me an ILL and explained that the book was too valuable to be loaned (to anyone but me) but whoever answered the phone didn’t take me seriously). That was before Dean Street Press started publishing Wentworth’s mystery backlist a few years ago. I’ve bought two but whenever I am about to buy more, I get distracted by another Dean Street Press or new Furrowed Middlebrow book.
Many are available on Kindle or on Project Gutenberg but try to support Dean Street’s reprints if you can or ask your library to purchase them. I have read a few recently via Hoopla as well. If you read Patricia Wentworth, do you have a favorite?
These shelves are beloved but have definitely been neglected recently. It is several years since I have reviewed any of her books. See my other Wentworth reviews: