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review 2018-05-05 20:58
Four Solid Winners in the Miss Silver Series
Latter End - Patricia Wentworth
Latter End - Patricia Wentworth,Diana Bishop
Poison In The Pen - Patricia Wentworth
Poison In The Pen - Patricia Wentworth,Diana Bishop
Miss Silver Comes to Stay - Patricia Wentworth
Miss Silver Intervenes (Miss Silver Mystery) - Patricia Wentworth
Miss Silver Intervenes - Diana Bishop,Patricia Wentworth

... lined up in order of preference.

 

I admittedly have so far only read two other Miss Silver books besides these four -- Grey Mask and The Chinese Shawl, respectively --, but based on the books listed above, my appreciation of the series is certainly increasing.  Like Georgette Heyer's mysteries (and to a lesser extent, Ngaio Marsh's), all the Miss Silver books seem to come with a side order of romance, which is probably not surprising, given that this is where Patricia Wentworth started out.  But once she had gotten the standard mystery and romance tropes out of her system that bogged down the first book of the series, Grey Mask, and are also still way too prevalent for my liking the fifth book (The Chinese Shawl -- what most annoyed me there was the predominant "youthful damsel in distress" theme), it seems that she found her stride somewhere between that book and the next one (Miss Silver Intervenes).  There are still common elements to all the novels; e.g., in addition to the invariably-included romance, like Marsh and Heyer Wentworth seems to be playing favorites: Once a character has been introduced as genuinely likeable, it is extremely unlikely that (s)he will turn out to be the murderer -- and if a superficially likeable character turns out to be the bad guy (or girl) in the end, there will be subtle hints all along the way that there might be more to them that meets the eye.  And of the four listed above, I think Miss Silver Intervenes is still the weakest.  But it's clear that Wentworth's apprentice phase as a mystery writer was over and done with.

 

In Miss Silver Intervenes, the detective (or "private enquiry agent," as she prefers to style herself) is called in to untangle a web of deceit, blackmail and murder in a London apartment building, against the background of WWII food shortage and other restrictions of daily life (and I confess I can't think of any other Golden Age mystery where one of the "good guys" is ultimately revealed to be

a sausage king.)

(spoiler show)

Though both of the book's main female characters have a whiff of snowflake / damsel in distress (and their beaux are consequently suffering from a mild form of white knight syndrome) -- and there is perhaps a bit too convenient a use of the amnesia trope (which I don't particularly care for, anyway) -- what I really like about this book is the way in which Wentworth brings the effect of WWII to life, chiefly in one particular character, but ultimately in all of them.  The mystery isn't quite on the level of Agatha Christie, nor does it in fact reach the cleverness of that presented in the previous Miss Silver book, The Chinese Shawl, but the characters -- especially some of the supporting characters, as well as the two policemen (CDI Lamb and Sergeant / later DI Abbott) -- here begin to come alive and take on three dimensions once and for all (though I will say that Miss Silver herself had reached that point by book 5 already).

 

I've yet to catch up with the Miss Silver novels between books 6 and 11, but by the time she got to Latter End (book 11), Wentworth had definitely also weaned herself of the need to have "damsel in distress" heroines.  There still are two such ladies as supporting characters, but the heroine is a young woman who can -- and does -- take care of herself extremely well, and is loved because (not in spite) of that by the hero ... and both she and the hero repeatedly refer to the two ladies in need of rescue as "doormats" (albeit in a spirit of genuine worry about these ladies' inability to put up a fight in their own behalf). -- In terms of plot, again this is perhaps not exactly Christie-level clever; also, the setting is, facially, an exponent of the "toxic family relations explode at country manor" Golden Age staple ... but it's all done with such incredible panache that the characters downright burst off the page; and the murder victim of the piece is in the best Golden Age tradition of a thoroughly despicable human being without whose presence and continuous bullying and intrigues everybody is decidedly better off. -- As in Miss Silver Intervenes, the policemen "formally" in charge of the case are DCI Lamb and Sergeant Abbot.

 

Miss Silver Comes to Stay (book 16) is an example of another Golden Age staple setting, the village mystery with sinister goings-on both in the village and at the nearby manor; and here we get to meet the third policeman that Miss Silver more or less routinely associates with, DI Randal Marsh, who is an old pupil of hers (Miss Silver was a teacher / governess and actually looking at a rather drab and modest sort of retirement before, by mere chance, she stumbled into becoming a "private enquiry agent"). --

Randal Marsh, in turn, also meets his future wife in this book.

(spoiler show)

This was the first book by Wentworth that I ever read, and I liked it well enough to continue my exploration.

 

Poison in the Pen (book 29), finally, is one of Wentworth's last Miss Silver Books -- there are 32 in all.  Again we're on Randal Marsh's turf, of which he has become Assistant Commissioner in the interim -- but the driving force behind Miss Silver's involvement in the case is DI Frank Abbot, who thinks "Maudie", as he privately calls her, is the ideal person to gently worm her way into the social circles of a village beset by poison pen letters.  This is, noticeably, also Miss Marple territory of course, and kudos to Wentworth, whose foray into this area I for once even prefer to Christie's ... albeit as always, not on the grounds of plot or intricacy of the mystery but chiefly on the grounds of the characters involved.

 

Based on these four books, I'm definitely going to continue my journey into Miss Silver's world ... and can I just say as a final note that I prefer my editions' covers of Miss Silver Intervenes and Miss Silver Comes to Stay -- both created by Terry Hand -- to those listed on BookLikes for the same ISBNs?

 

 

(Same ISBN as the covers listed on BL, so no legit grounds to change them, and I can't be bothered to create extra entries for the alternative covers.  But the new ones are stock images which -- probably not entirely coincidentally -- are also used for Georgette Heyer's mysteries, e.g., see the cover of Detection Unlimited, to the left ... where, incidentally, it fits decidedly less well than with Wentworth's Latter End; but then, a disjoint between cover image and contents of the book is common ailment of most of the recent editions of Heyer's mysteries.)

 

 

The audio editions of the Miss Silver books are, incidentally, read by Diana Bishop, whose narrations I've thoroughly come to enjoy.

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text 2018-04-01 10:27
March marches out...
The Case of the Baker Street Irregulars - Anthony Boucher
To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life - Ed Yong
Burn Bright - Patricia Briggs
One Corpse Too Many - Ellis Peters
The Uncommon Reader - Alan Bennett
Miss Silver Comes to Stay - Patricia Wentworth
Miss Kopp's Midnight Confessions - Amy Stewart
The Moving Toyshop - Edmund Crispin
The House of the Cats: And Other Traditional Tales from Europe - Maggie Pearson

Either I was feeling generous, or I had a great reading month.  Since my RL wasn't as nice as my reading month, we'll go with great reading!

 

My total for March was 26 books.  Moonlight Reader's inspired reading version of the game Clue! (Cluedo to those in the Commonwealth), Kill Your Darlings, certainly helped keep my reading pace up, and as always, worked particularly well at getting the veterans off my TBR stacks.  

 

Of the 25 books, 2 were 5-star reads:

The Case of the Baker Street Irregulars by Anthony Boucher 

I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life by Ed Yong 

 

I had 8 4.5 star reads too:

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee 

Burn Bright by Patricia Briggs 

One Corpse Too Many by Ellis Peters 

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett 

Miss Silver Comes to Stay by Patricia Wentworth 

Miss Kopp's Midnight Confessions by Amy Stewart 

The Moving Toyshop by Edmund Crispin 

The House of the Cats: And Other Traditional Tales from Europe by Maggie Pearson 

 

 

 

Some stats, gussied up:

 

My TBR project:

I've set a book buying budget for each month that = 50% of the total books I read the previous month.  Any books not bought carry over to the next month.  

 

Last month I bought 11 out of the 15 budgeted, leaving me with 4 to carry over to April.  My total books read in March being 25 leaves me with a budget of 12 (I always round down; I figure this way, if I go over one month, there's a small error of margin). 

 

total books I can buy in April:  16

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review 2018-03-29 15:33
An Excellent Golden Age Mystery
Latter End - Patricia Wentworth

A special thank you to Tigus who steered me towards this particular Miss Silver mystery, as it is by far the best of the three that I've read so far. 

 

The set up for Latter End has been used dozens of times before - Lord of the Manor (Jimmy Latter) marries Lois, a jumped up younger woman slash self-centered floozy who decides to be the new broom that sweeps out the old. She proceeds to throw out the old retainers and impoverished relatives, then gets into a blazing row with the husband after he finds her trying to rekindle an old flame with his cousin, Antony, who is having none of it, realizing that he made a narrow escape indeed, and ends up dead of poison in her Turkish coffee. The suspect list is loooooong, indeed, because everyone had cause to hate Lois. Including Jimmy, he's just too obtuse and taken with her fragile form to figure it out. She was truly awful. 

 

Not Mrs. Boynton from Appointment With Death awful. More like "I'm so pretty and young and everyone should do exactly what I demand otherwise I will get bored and mope around and behave generally like a spoiled child. Oh, and I'm the center of the universe, so no one else's needs are important at all."

 

Frank Abbott, one of Miss Silver's old pupils who is now the younger half of a Scotland Yard detective team shows up with DI Lamb to investigate the crime. Jimmy, distraught, hires Miss Silver to come to the country house and dig around because he is convinced that the lovely Lois committed suicide because she was upset about the fact that he'd been giving her the silent treatment for two days after he found her practically mauling cousin Antony in her negligee. Did I mention that Jimmy is obtuse? Jimmy is obtuse.

 

Miss Silver's contribution to the mystery is very Marple-esque - she uses her knowledge of human nature and her sharp eyes to figure out when the various and sundry occupants aren't telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth and then worms it out of them in the nicest way possible. I am pretty sure at this point that I like Miss Silver more than I like Miss Marple, although continued investigation is required to confirm.

 

I came up with a solution at 70%, which turned out to be right on. It was a pleasing solution because this is one of those mysteries where the victim is extremely hateable, and everyone else actually seems pretty nice, if a bit dramatic at times. 

 

The Miss Silver mysteries do not seem to need to be read in order, so I'd recommend this one over either of the other two I read. 

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review 2018-03-24 16:05
Detection Club Bingo - Chapter 6
Poison in the Pen (The Miss Silver Mysteries) - Patricia Wentworth

Poison in the Pen is mentioned by Martin Edwards in The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books in Chapter 6, Serpents in Eden, as an example of the mystery taking place in a rural setting

 

The English village is one of the most noteworthy settings for a classic mystery - it's depths have been plumbed by pretty much every mystery author, from Wilkie Collins (in the Moonstone) to Louise Penny, whose Three Pines mysteries are nominally set in Canada, but share all of the characteristics of the quirky, rural English village, often look into precisely this phenomenon. The combination of the rural setting and the closed circle leaves lots of scope for psychological analysis, and the juxtaposition of rural peace and murderous violence makes for interesting interactions between characters and investigators.

 

Poison in the Pen centers around a series of "poison pen" letters that are being received by various villagers on the eve of the wedding of the niece of the local gentry, which result in the suicide of a young woman who drowns herself in the manor-house pond (or is it a suicide? dun dun dun). As is always the case, there is much more simmering beneath the surface of the bucolic village than meets the eye: resentment, infidelity, insanity, and utterly banal evil. Wentworth uses many of the stock character types that are seen in this type of mystery. Miss Silver herself is a Jane Marple analogue, easily underestimated.

 

I liked this one much better than Grey Mask, which I previously read, and which felt much more cartoonish than this one - apparently middle aged British ladies should NOT write international criminal mastermind mysteries because they are invariably silly. It shares similarities to Christie's The Moving Finger, which also relies on the poison pen letter trope. The relationship between Miss Silver and Frank Abbot of Scotland Yard is intriguing. I enjoyed it, but Wentworth still isn't up to Christie's standard. Which is why she is the Queen.

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review 2018-03-19 10:04
Miss Silver Comes to Stay (Miss Silver mysteries, #15 or 16)
Miss Silver Comes to Stay - Patricia Wentworth

This was my second Miss Silver mystery; the first one I read was the first in the series, and frankly, it left me dubious about reading the rest, but I found this and one other on the bottom shelf at a local used book store and threw caution to the wind. 

 

My brief googling has this book at either 15 or 16 in the series, and it shows.  It was so much better!  90% less sappy puppy romance, 100% better plotting and characterisations.  And the writing... the writing felt fresh and a little edgy, in that way that third person POV does when it's done correctly.  An occasional and very subtle breaking of the fourth wall added to that feeling that I was reading a very accomplished writer's work.

 

I've heard that Wentworth was rather fond of using wills in her story lines, and this one doesn't disprove the rumour, but ... no, I'm not going to go further - I'm not sure it doesn't skirt the boundaries of spoiler-ville.

 

The mystery plotting... masterful.  I was sucked into the story thoroughly; totally hooked and I missed it all, until it was so late in the game that it made no difference.  I like Miss Silver; she's Miss Marple without the pretence of fluffiness and helplessness, so losing to her didn't bother me in the least.  I only wish she'd stop coughing all the time.  Someone ought to give that woman a cough drop.

 

I hope the other Miss Silver book I grabbed at the same time is as good, and I'll definitely be taking the time to look at the series' books again, though I might completely break rank with my life long habits and skip the first few books.  Now I know how good she can be, I'd rather not suffer through Wentworth's growing pains if I can avoid it.

 

This book is the perfect fit for the Kill Your Darlings game's COD: Arsenical Toothpaste.  It is a mystery, and it's main character is a woman over the age of 55.  There should be bonus points for the knitting.  ;-)

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