I hadn’t investigated a mystery with Miss Silver for ages, I was thinking that it was time I did, but I was wonderfully distracted when I learned that lots of her other books were being sent back out into the world.
More mysteries! I had to investigate!
An excellent introduction told me a little more about Patricia Wentworth, and it told me that she wrote standalone mysteries, that some of them had recurring characters, and that one or two of those characters appeared in Miss Silver stories too.
I was intrigued.
This story stands alone, and it is set in London, in the later years of the war.
“She was so rigidly controlled as she came into the dock that she wasn’t Carey Silence any more, or a girl, or young, but just a will to walk straight and seemly, to hold a proud head high, to bar sight and hearing against all these people who had come to see her tried for her life. There was a moment when the grip she had on herself wavered giddily ….”
Carey Silence was entering the dock on the first day of her trial for the murder of Honoria Maquisten, her grandmother’s cousin and dearest friend. She was scared, she knew the case against her was compelling, and she really didn’t understand how that could be.
Her fear was palpable.
I was drawn in and I was made to care straight away; because Patricia Wentworth was such a good storyteller and so good at creating engaging, likeable and believable characters.
After a first chapter in court the story went back in time, to explain how Carey came to be there.
She had gone to stay with Honoria when she left hospital, after being bombed and left jobless and homeless. They hadn’t met before, because Carey’s grandmother had died when she was very young and there had been family estrangements, but Honoria took to her newly discovered young relation straight away. It seemed that she was just like her grandmother!
Honaria was elderly and frail, but she was undoubtedly head of her household; she had always been – she would always be – formidable and flamboyant.
“What was the good of saying that Cousin Honoria was like the Queen of Sheba and leaving it at that? The Queen of Sheba didn’t wear a vermilion wig dressed about a foot high in several thousand curls.”
She had brought a number of younger relations into her home. There was her nephew Dennis, an RAF pilot who had been invalided out of the War. There was her niece Nora, who had a husband in the Far East and who was employed as the driver of a senior military man. There was another niece, Honor, who packed parcels for POWs and was much less welcoming to Carey than her two cousins. And there was another nephew, Robert, who didn’t live there but visited often.
It was clear that Carey was a favourite, and that she would be gaining from the revisions.
One day a letter was delivered by hand, and when Honoria read it she was furious and she insisted that her solicitor be sent for immediately. He was away? Then his clerk must come instead! One of the beneficiaries of her will – she didn’t say who, she didn’t give anything away – was to be written out.
But before Honoria could sign that new will she was dead – from an overdose of her regular sleeping draft.
Carey was arrested, because she had fetched the sleeping draft and handed it to Honoria; because there were suggestions that she was going to be written out of the will, because Honoria had discovered more about her new-found relation; and because witness statements – from a long-serving maid and a terribly professional nurse – suggested that she was the only person who had the chance to doctor the sleeping draft.
She had been welcomed into the family, but now she was cast out.
Luckily Carey had one person on her side. Jeff, her American beau, had been away on business but he came back to London as soon as he head what had happened, he made sure that she had a excellent barrister, and he made sure that everything that could be done to find out the truth of the matter was done.
Carey had often found him infuriating, but he proved his worth. Though maybe she was too distracted to appreciate that ….
The second half of the book told the same story as the first half; but as a courtroom drama. It could have been repetitive, but I loved seeing the different characters take the stand to give their own accounts, and going over events again gave me a wonderful opportunity to try to work out what had happened.
I wondered for a while if Carey was unreliable – after all, even murderers can be afraid – but I ruled that out quite quickly. That wasn’t Patricia Wentworth’s way, and Carey was far too likeable. I wondered if a certain character was being particularly duplicitous, but I ruled that out too because of his reactions to certain things. And because the real solution was quite obvious.
This wasn’t the most mysterious – or the most complicated – of mysteries, but the plot was well thought out. There were a few little contrivances, but nothing unreasonable. I read a lovely period piece, an engaging human drama, and a wonderfully readable book.
I saw echoes of other books, but the story as a whole was distinctive – and distinctively Patricia Wentworth.
The characters were very well done, the period setting was just as good, and I think the details of clothes and the like were done as well as Patricia Wentworth always does them, but I was too dazzled by Honoria’s flamboyant style and fabulous collection jewels to take as much notice of other, similar things as I might.
I can say definitively that there was no knitting and nobody went anywhere near the edge of a cliff; that is clearly Miss Silver’s domain. She could have stepped into this book, she and Carey would have got on so well, but the story didn’t need her and I didn’t miss her too much.
But I am looking forward to meeting her again.
I have lots more Miss Silver books to read, and now I have a stack of Patricia Wentworth’s other books to investigate.