When life has you wanting a book that is diverting and not too demanding, one of Patricia Wentworth’s stand-alone stories might be the very thing.
This one was just that for me.
The story opens in London, when a woman and a man sit on the same bench very late at night.
Flossie had just taken a new job as a parlour maid. She found herself in a house of four women, the other three being the elderly employer she would never see, the nurse who protected her fiercely, and the book who never left the basement. When Flossie had handed over the old lady’s night-time drink and was on her way back downstairs, she looked into the drawing room. Where she had previously seen a large mirror in a gilt frame she saw just the frame, and she was sure that a human face was looking out from the dark space where the mirror once was. She was terrified and she fled, vowing to never set foot in the house again.
Miles was the secretary to a wealthy American, and he had come to London to look for his employer’s young niece. Her parents had died when she was an infant, nearly twenty years earlier and the family didn’t know what had become of the child. The child had been left a fortune by an elderly relation, and so it was decided that it was time she was found. Unfortunately Miles’ luggage was in Paris, his pocket-book was stolen, the friends who he hoped would put him up were away, and so he wasn’t at all sure what he should do for the night.
Eager to talk about, Flossie told ‘Mr Miles’ all about what had happened to her. He was incredulous, but he found that he couldn’t question her sincerity or her emotional state. They talked together for some time, and then Flossie went home to the aunt who had raised her and Miles set off to untangle his problems and begin his quest.
Neither expected to meet again, but they did; because, of course, the mystery of the missing heiress and the mystery of what happened at that house were closely linked.
A new parlour maid and Miles’s friends would also be drawn into the plot.
There is a great deal of plot, with many twists and along the way, and I was captivated from the first page to the last.
The book is a little over-full, but I really can’t think I would have left out.
There is a large and diverse cast of characters, and each one has a part to play and a story of their own. I would have been happy to spend more time with many of them; and I would have loved to know just a little more about certain stories that played out in the past or the might play out after the story in this book was over.
Patricia Wentworth had the gift of bringing characters to life, of making her readers care, quickly and efficiently; and she knew exactly which details to share to illuminate them, their lives and their world.
In this book she went right across the class spectrum, without ever hitting a wrong note.
There is much intrigue, wonderful human drama and a good dash of romance before everything is resolved.
I was held in the moment, because there was always something to hold my interest, and that is the best way to read this book. I wouldn’t advise thinking too much about the overall structure, because that reveals many coincidences, much that is highly improbable, and a criminal plot that is downright silly.
This isn’t a book to challenge my favourite Patrician Wentworth stand-alones – the courtroom drama in Silence in Court and and the romantic suspense in Kingdom Lost – but it is a wonderful entertainment and it was definitely the right book at the right time.