Sunday, September 26, 2021

Down Under, a mystery by Patricia Wentworth

Title: Down Under (Benbow Smith #4)
Author: Patricia Wentworth
Publication: Aeonian Press, hardcover, 1976 (originally published in 1937; now available from Dean Street Press)
Genre: Mystery
Setting: England, 1930s
Description: Rose Anne Carew's disappearance the day before her wedding causes a huge scandal. The police assume she ran away with another man, although Rose Anne and her fiancé, Oliver Loddon, had seemed to be a happy young couple. Oliver, devastated, searches for her desperately, while her family wrings its collective hands. Loveday Leigh, a distant cousin of Rose Anne’s and the heroine of Fool Errant, tries to help Oliver by sending him to Mr. Benbow Collingwood Horatio Smith, a mysterious gentleman who is tight with the Foreign Office and connected with Cabinet members. Oliver doesn’t expect much from the eccentric Mr. Smith and his parrot, Ananias, but when he mentions the name of Rose Anne’s former nurse whom she was visiting before she vanished, Mr. Smith takes notice. He shares a strange story about a criminal who faked his death years ago but Mr. Smith believes that man has gone underground and is building a dynasty by forcefully marrying his relatives to women with red hair. Oliver can’t believe this theory has anything to do with Rose Anne but it’s the only lead he has, so he goes off to investigate, plunging himself into danger.

My Impression: Patricia Wentworth has several recurring villains but I don’t remember this one, Amos Rennard, turning up before and I think it is an incredibly weak plot. Kidnapping a woman with auburn hair on the eve of her wedding seems likely to bring attention that underworld criminals should avoid, however headstrong they may be. If Rose Anne’s father weren’t an ineffective clergyman, perhaps he would have made more of a fuss at the police not taking Rose Anne’s disappearance more seriously. Mr. Carew interviews the old nurse:

“I don’t notice clothes. Was sort of coat would it be? I mean –" He stopped, steadied his voice, and went on again. “Would it be the sort of coat she would wear if she meant – to take a journey?”

Oliver stood still by the window. The world stood still about him. That would be said, that would be thought – that Rose Anne had run away rather than marry him. There would be headlines in the press. What did it matter as long as she was safe? He would give his soul to know that she was safe.

Any of us would want a fiancé with his loyalty. The story is about Oliver’s quest to find Rose Anne, and she is a passive, fragile character with much less appeal than Wentworth’s usual determined young women; even Rose Anne’s chatterbox younger cousin Elfreda has more personality. While very readable, as are all of Wentworth’s mysteries, this book suffers from its unconvincing plot (What would Anne Shirley say about this fetish for redheads?) and lack of a vibrant heroine.  Mr. Smith is intriguing but he is no substitute for Miss Silver!

This is my twenty-third book for the Cloak and Dagger Challenge.
Source: Personal copy.  I had not read this one before; presumably, because I wanted to read the four Benbow Smith books in order.  Thank you to Dean Street Press for bringing Wentworth's lesser-known titles back into print!


Cath said...

Catching up with blog posts after a few days away in Cornwall. I actually really like the sound of this and it's a shame it didn't quite come up to scratch for you. I plan to get around to as may Wentworths as I can so doubtless I'll get to this eventually. Intrigued by this Benbow Smith character.

Lex @ Lexlingua said...

A fetish for redheads! Well, well, as unbelievable as it sounds, the premise is so striking. And, there is a parrot involved too. I haven't tried the Wentworth mysteries, but they remind me of Phryne Fisher series a lot.

TracyK said...

I have yet to read any of Wentworth's non-Miss Silver books (but I plan to someday). I don't know if I have any with Benbow Smith in them.

I could have sworn I commented on this post. Maybe I just thought about it and then forgot. Oh well.