For a person who has read all the Miss Silver books , I was woefully ignorant about Patricia Wentworth’s work and life. Thanks to Dean Street Press I’ve now read two of the non-Miss Silver books she wrote. Thanks to Curtis Brown’s introductions, I now know something about her life. She began her writing career with historical romances, and moved on to mysteries. When Miss Silver proved so popular, she rather took over from the other detectives Wentworth had created and it’s the thirty two books featuring her which are mostly read today, the others being almost impossible to find. In a long writing career, Patricia Wentworth wrote thirty three mysteries which were not about Miss Silver and Dean Street Press are reissuing the lot. The first batch will be out on 2nd May.
Silence in Court is a punning title. It’s a standalone novel which opens with a young woman called Carey Silence on trial for murder. Although there is a necessary back story, most of the action takes place in court. The book was published in 1945 and Carey is a war casualty, injured when a train she was travelling in was machine gunned. She is taken in by a distant relation who was a friend of her grandmother’s; a rich, capricious old woman who lives with assorted relatives and is constantly changing her will according to how much they annoy her. She takes a great fancy to Carey and changes her will again to leave her a considerable inheritance. When ‘Cousin Honoria’ is murdered, Carey is the chief suspect.
Carey herself is rather a cipher. She’s not fully recovered her health and endures her trial in a dream-like state. Luckily, the relations are more interesting; it’s a pity the liveliest had to be killed off. The court room scenes are tense because the evidence and testimony against Carey are so strong that it’s hard to see how she can be proved innocent. The way the mystery is solved is rather too deus ex machina for me but it’s certainly a surprise. A very enjoyable book.
Walk with Care was published in 1933 and is one of four Benbow Smith mysteries. Benbow Collingwood Horatio Smith, to give his full, splendid name, is a distinguished looking, cultured sort of chap who leads an agreeable bachelor existence with a man servant to look after him and a parrot for company. Rather like Mycroft Holmes, he’s one of those clever people who don’t seem to do much, yet know everything.
The plot is impossible to outline without giving spoilers. It involves the Secret Service, blackmail and a sinister medium. The story begins with Rosalind Denny mourning the apparent suicide of her husband Gilbert. She believes he was ‘murdered’ by being hounded to death. Her cousin Colonel Garrett of the Foreign Office is a friend of Smith’s. A particular event starts him wondering how it is that several other people with promising careers retired suddenly or had nervous breakdowns and he consults Smith about it. Then it appears that Denny’s former secretary, Jeremy Dare, is being framed for passing on confidential information to the wrong people. Jeremy has some very strange experiences which reminded me of some of Margery Allingham’s writing.
The solution is not as interesting as the mystery itself and Benbow Smith doesn’t really do much detecting; rather he deduces correctly who is innocent and who guilty. Yet I preferred this book of the two I read. There’s more social background, always enjoyable, and the parrot Ananias, whose comments can be so pertinent, is a wonderful character. I’d be very happy to pass an hour or so reading more about Benbow Smith.