Friday, November 11, 2022

Fool Errant by Patricia Wentworth

Title: Fool Errant
Author: Patricia Wentworth
Publication: 1929
Genre: Mystery
Setting: England between the Wars
Description: Hugo Ross is down on his luck - unemployed, no university degree, and has only £5 when he hears about a job as secretary to a well-known inventor, Ambrose Minstrel. He decides to show up at Minstrel’s home to preempt other applicants and travels down on a foggy evening, literally running into a breathless young woman. She warns him about the job before dashing off on the London train. Hugo wishes she had explained and Minstrel is rude and condescending in the interview, but he gets the job. Almost immediately, however, he begins to be suspicious about Minstrel and Minstrel’s assistant Hacker. And when the young woman, Loveday Leigh, telephones and asks him to meet her, the woman who shows up is an impostor. Puzzled and worried, Hugo seeks advice from his brother-in-law’s knowledgeable uncle, Mr. Benbow Collingwood Horatio Smith. Smith takes Hugo’s concerns seriously, agrees he is probably being set up, but asks him to do his patriotic duty by returning to Minstrel to find out what is going on.

My Impression: This is the first in a loosely connected four-book series with an espionage theme, and Wentworth’s best-known sleuth, Miss Silver, does not appear. Mr. Smith, an expert on European and domestic politics who has mysterious government connections, and his parrot Ananias often entertain troubled guests who have nowhere else to turn. His dry manner is intimidating but Hugo is reassured to have his suspicions validated and, although worried, realizes it will help that Minstrel and Hacker think he is “an absolute m-m-mug” because they won’t suspect him of spying on them. Or will they?
Mr. Hacker grew impatient.

“Don’t talk such nonsense! Who wants to be innocent? The point is – is he a fool or isn’t he? And is it safe to bank on his being just the fool he seems?”

“He’s not a fool – he’s a boy.”

“The same thing.”

“You mean it will serve you as well.” Her voice was a little scornful.
The disappointing aspect of this book is Hugo’s love interest, Loveday Leigh. She is incredibly ditzy and Hugo deserves better. Most of Wentworth’s heroines are determined and loyal. Loveday is an annoying giggly character who seems brainless and self-centered, although she does come through when necessary. Not one of Wentworth’s best but there is plenty of suspense as the two naive protagonists take on a network of villains.
Source: Personal copy. This is my twenty-first book for Carol's 2022 Cloak and Dagger Reading Challenge. I am happy to report it is now available from Dean Street Press.  I had read this for the 1929 Club but ran out of time to review it last month.  Check out the review from She Reads Novels.

Other Books in the Series: Danger Calling, Walk With Care, Down Under

7 comments:

Jerri said...

I believe you intended to say Miss Silver rather than Miss Marple. The two spinster detectives of a certain age were invented at very much the same time, but I do think they have different personalities.

CLM said...

Good catch! Thank you, Jerri. Yes, I do think they have different personalities and I prefer Miss Silver who seems wiser and less gossipy. Miss Silver, having worked for a living, always seems more sensitive to the interaction of Upstairs and Downstairs in homes with servants as well.

Helen said...

Thanks for linking to my review. I think we had similar feelings about this book - entertaining, with plenty of suspense, but Loveday was so annoying! I'll probably try the others in the series eventually, but I want to read some of the Miss Silver books first.

Jerri said...

For those who have never tried a Miss Silver book, my personal recommendation is to NOT start with the first Miss Silver, Grey Mask. I feel it is among the weakest of the series, and in some ways not really part of the series, as it was several years before the second book was published, and I feel that Wentworth had matured as a writer during those years. Some folks do enjoy Grey Mask, but I rank it near the bottom of the works by this very prolific writer.

CLM said...

I have a hard time remembering which ones I liked best but I think Through the Wall, She Came Back, and Anna Where Are You were all very good. This is a series that reading in order is not essential.

TracyK said...

After reading your review, and hearing that there are other Benbow Smith books, which I had forgotten, I will be looking for a copy of this book. I do have books 3 and 4 already in ebook format so I could start there, but would rather start with the one first published.

CLM said...

Tracy, check if your library has Hoopla. A lot of her mysteries are available that way. I did buy this in hardcover years ago when only the Miss Silver books were readily available in paperback.