Thursday, November 18, 2021

Outrageous Fortune: A Golden Age Mystery by Patricia Wentworth

Title: Outrageous Fortune
Author: Patricia Wentworth
Publication: Warner, paperback, 1990 (originally published in 1933)
Genre: Mystery
Setting: 20th century England
Description: The Van Berg emeralds have been stolen and Elmer Van Berg shot and left for dead.  A man is unconscious in the hospital muttering about Jimmy Riddell or Randal and green beads, and the hospital helpfully advertises for his family on the radio as Twitter will not created until 2006. He is claimed by scheming Nesta Riddell and when he wakes up she says he is her husband and partner in a conspiracy to steal the eight emeralds. She wants to know where they are.  When another woman, young Caroline Leigh, goes to the hospital seeking the missing cousin Jim Randal she has always idolized, she finds Nesta has removed the man. When Caroline finally connects with Jim, he is still suffering from partial amnesia and is desperate to prove he did not steal the emeralds. Evidence seems to mount against Jim and he and Caroline are in a race against time to find the jewels before Jim is arrested.
My Impression: This is the style of Wentworth I like best with an intrepid and loyal heroine who does not stay home and whimper but takes initiative. Caroline has been waiting for her older cousin to return from his overseas travel and is worried when he hasn’t, so rushes to the hospital when she learns of the radio message. She is told the man had no identifying information, just a scrap of paper from a letter:
The day sister felt a little disturbed; she did not know why.

“No – it was only the name.”

“What name?”

“Just Caroline.”

Caroline put both hands to her head as if she were afraid that her hat would blow off in some violent, intangible wind. She felt giddy with the rush of it. It slapped her face and sang in her ears. She held onto her bright brown curls and opened her eyes as far as they would go.

“Caroline?” she said in her very deepest voice.

“That’s all.”

“It’s quite enough. My dear thing, it’s more than enough - because I am Caroline.”
I just learned there are some discrepancies between my edition and the English version. The book was published there as Seven Green Stones, reducing the number of emeralds from eight to seven. Author Jill Mansell (I am a fan so it was fun to see her on Twitter) provided a link to the origin of the name Patsy Ann, another cousin of Caroline’s. This website speculates that the name Patsy Ann achieved some popularity in 1933 because of the book; however, in my edition, the character’s name is Pansy Ann, and she is not very important to the plot so it seems unlikely anyone would name a baby for her. I’d like to investigate this further: Harvard has a copy of the original Lippincott hardcover but it seems to be on loan until February which is a little suspicious. I don’t think I had discovered Wentworth in college but I did find some early 20th-century fiction at the library and read my fill of Elinor Glyn and E. Phillips Oppenheim. I often think I should get a job at Harvard so I can get library privileges again!
The original cover
This is a standalone Wentworth, without Miss Silver or any other detective. Okay, there are a lot of unlikely coincidences, beginning with Jim landing in a hospital so close to both Nesta and Caroline, and the nefarious activity being concentrated in a small geographic area near his home town but the reader can roll with these. For those who do not like romance between cousins, it is not specified how close the relationship is. This is my twenty-ninth book in the Cloak and Dagger Challenge hosted at Carol's Notebook.
Source: Personal copy. Dean Street Press has brought this and other Wentworths back in trade paperback.


Sue in Suffolk said...

I just LOVE Dean Street Press!
Doing such a good job - especially the Furrowed Middlebrow

Cath said...

I read Grey Mask a month or two ago and liked it enough that I plan to read more of her work in 2022. I think I have a couple of free ones from Dean Street Press's Twitter account. Nice to connect with you on there by the way, I had no idea you were on Twitter.

Katrina said...

Thanks for mentioning the British title. I enjoy her Miss Silver books but have only read a few that don't feature her, I'll give this one a go.

TracyK said...

I have a copy of this book, with the top cover on your post, I think. I still haven't read any of her books that don't include Miss Silver, but I want to.

CLM said...

I requested what I have thought for years was a very rare Patricia Wentworth called "Seven Green Stones" from the Harvard Library and when I opened it today, full of pleased anticipation, I realized it is Outrageous Fortune! I hate when publishers change the titles!