I had intended to make steady progress through Patricia Wentworth’ Miss Silver mysteries, but I was distracted from that plan when one of her stand-alone novels caught my eye. It sounded quite unlike any of her other books that I’ve read, it sounded a little like a certain other book that I loved, and it sounded far too good to resist.
It sits somewhere between a golden age mystery and romantic suspense, and I would say that the vintage cover that proclaimed it as a ‘romantic adventure’ got it about right.
What I want to say is that this is the story of the most spirited and engaging heroine you could ever hope to meet.
Valentine Ryven was born on an ocean liner and she was shipwrecked on a small island in the South Seas not very much later. She was picked up and carried to safety by Edward Bowden, a distinguished scholar taking long and rambling holiday after working much too hard.
Edward was wonderfully resourceful, salvaging a great deal from the wrecked liner and harbouring the islands natural resources. He also educated Valentine and brought her up to be ready to take her place in the world he had left behind. He was sure that one day another boat would pass by to rescue them; but he prepared Valentine for the possibility that he might die before that day came.
This story begins some twenty years later, when a young man named Austin Muir came ashore and heard a young woman reciting Matthew Arnold. He was amazed and when Valentine recovered from her initial fright she was thrilled that she was being rescued and that she would have a chance to meet more people and to see so many things that she had only been told about by Edward.
Austin had been sent ashore by his employer, Nicholas Barclay, who had set out to find the island not on any map that one of his ancestors swore he had discovered. He was delighted with Austin’s discover, he was charmed by Valentine, and when he saw the papers that Edward had told her to present to her rescuer he knew who she was straight away.
Valentine was the missing heiress to a vast fortune!
Barclay took Valentine home via a Caribbean island, where he bought her clothes, shoes, and all of the other accoutrements a young woman going home to England should have. Valentine was delighted with it all, and she was smitten with the two very different men who were taking her back to her family.
It didn’t occur to Valentine for a minute that her family might not be pleased to see her.
She didn’t know that society had changed a great deal in the years since Edward left England.
Helena Ryven – Valentine’s aunt – was very correct and proper. That was a shock to the warm- hearted Valentine, who had been so looking forward to having a family she was sure she would love and would love her back.
She thought that the problem might be that she was disinheriting Helen’s son, Eustace, and so she offered him as much of the estate as he wanted. She explained that she needed very little to be happy, that all she needed was food and shelter and the lovely countryside around her. Her offer was rejected out of hand!
When she saw the wonderful work that Eustace was doing, restoring run down properties and looking after poor families in the East End of London, she knew that she had to find a way for him to carry on. She realised that the answer was simple – she and Eustace should be married and then everything that was hers would be his.
She loved Austin but he had rejected her – explaining that their family backgrounds. She didn’t understand but he stood firm, and after that it really didn’t matter who she married.
Her proposal was accepted.
Valentine tried to be happy but she couldn’t.
She loved the warm family home of Aunt Helena’s elder sister, Ida Cobb. She loved spending time in the country cottage where Aunt Helena’s younger brother, Timothy Brand, lived with his soon to be married half-sister, Lil. But she knew that Aunt Helena – a knitter who thought that wool-winding was an excellent occupation for her niece – would never understand her, and that she would never quite understand Aunt Helena. She also began to suspect that Eustace wanted to marry another woman, and that he was marrying her from a sense of duty.
She could never quite fit into the role life had given her.
As the wedding day drew nearer she knew that she couldn’t go through with it, but she wasn’t sure how to get out of it.
And one or two things happened that made her think she was in danger ….
I found so much to love in this book.
Patricia Wentworth is always good at clothes and in this book she must have had a lovely time writing about the joy Valentine found in so many lovely things in her new world.
She understood Valentine so well; and she created a wonderfully diverse band of characters to populate her world.
Eustace’s work in London gave the story just enough serious underpinning.
And I should say that ‘Kingdom Lost’ was not so like that certain other book – ‘Miss Ranskill Comes Home’ by Barbara Euphan Todd. They had similar beginnings, they had some themes and ideas in common, but the two heroines and their stories are different and distinctive.
I loved – and can recommend – both!
This particular story was improbable but it was so engaging; it rang true logically and emotionally.
I really didn’t know how the it would play out, and I so wanted to know, I was so concerned for Valentine, that I had to turn the pages very quickly.
There was romance, but I couldn’t even predict how that would play out.
Some might consider the twist at the end of the story to be a little too convenient, but I loved that it had the roots in the very first pages of the book, and it made me realise that Patricia Wentworth had plotted very cleverly.
Most of all, I loved spending time with Valentine.
I’m thinking now that maybe I should alternate Miss Silver books and Patricia Wentworth’s other stories ….