Miss Silver Comes To Stay by Patricia Wentworth

Miss Silver Comes To StayBefore he left to seek his fortune, James Lessiter put a strain on the friendship between Rietta Cray and Catherine Lee by telling Rietta that he loved her. But then he leaves and the two women go on with their lives, but returns twenty years later, seemingly with a grudge against Catherine.

Catherine is widowed and living on his family’s estate but may have been taking advantage of things by selling off expensive furnishings in her rented house. Rietta is still unmarried but the romantic spark between her and James seems to have died. Or has it?

But one night, after Rietta has had an argument with James, her nephew Carr arrives with her coat that she left behind, now covered in blood. Lessiter has had his head smashed in, and things seem to be pointing at Rietta. But there are many more motives in the village and it will take the visiting Miss Silver to get to the bottom of things.

I’ve encountered Miss Silver and Patricia Wentworth once before, in The Clock Strikes Twelve. It was all right, but one of the more annoying style of murder mysteries, one where you really need a plan of the house along with little models of the suspects so that you could work out who was where when so that can spot who can have been in the wrong place at the right time. Not much fun for the armchair sleuth, that style. But I needed a book from 1949 for Past Offenses’s Crimes of the Century meme. I’m not really one for challenges, but this one is one of the easiest to fit into my reading plans anyway.

Wentworth wrote 32 mystery novels with many featuring Miss Maud Silver (basically a more active Miss Marple) starting in 1928, although I don’t think that she was a member of the Detection Club. On a quick aside – does a mystery novel count as Golden Age if a) it wasn’t written by a member of the Detection Club and b) despite the author writing mysteries between the wars, the book in question was written outside the relevant era? If b) works as a rule, that would mean that A Murder Is Announced isn’t a Golden Age mystery. Some more thoughts to come on this one…

On to this one. Sergio over at Tipping My Fedora suggested in the comments to Crossword Murder that I would be giving this one a bit of a kicking but that’s almost the opposite. This is one of the best classic mysteries that I’ve read in a long time. A nice list of suspects, a plot that keeps moving forward, and, most importantly, a murderer that utterly caught me out. It reminded me a little of the reveal in Til Death Do Us Part – it caught me completely flat-footed but made perfect sense.

The mechanics of the crime are kept simple (although one action of the murderer serves only to provide a red herring) but as the plot progressed, I was looking the wrong way. Recently, I’ve found that to be pretty rare – usually I’ve been spotting the shape of the mystery (least-likely-suspect, for example) but was really pleased to be totally fooled here. But the clues are there to spot the killer…

It also has that classic mystery romance-that-comes-out-of-nowhere but that’s a standard of the genre so I can’t really quibble there. I am led to believe that this is one of the better Miss Silver books, so it may be a while before I revisit the series, but this is well worth a look. Highly Recommended.

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28 comments

  1. Really glad you enjoyed this one because I have to say, after my last Silver (which I believe was published just after this one) – I just wrote her off completely as all the books seem incredibly rigid and mechanical in terms of style, character an plot. OK, shall look out for this. As for Golden Age definitions, some stretch it as far as the end of the 50s, so …

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    • I think I’ll never find a definitive answer to “Is this a Golden Age mystery?” – I was angling towards “Anything written by a member of the Detection Club” but that rules out Wentworth (and, more importantly Ellery Queen). But the “in the Golden Age style” issue is one that I’m still having a think about.

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      • The need to be in the Detection Club is actually a new one on me and I don’t believe that would fit most people’s definition of Golden Age – much too restrictive – in between the wars is the bit that most would basically agree to.

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      • And they’d be wrong – it’s got a detective hero, it’s a got a surprise murderer, it’s set between the Wars (and I really don’t think this Club rationale of yours is going to fly mate 🙂 )

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      • Chum, surely if you keep re-defining your terms this way, yes you will win the argument but you will also have a library with a remarkably small number of authors in it!!! Most readers would accept the phrase ‘it’s a golden age’ mystery’ to mean a traditional detective story published between the wars. The hardboiled private eye is as part of the traditional detective genre as the toffee-nosed dilettante – just because you’re not keep don’t make it any less so. But hey, your blog, your rules, but …

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      • I’m not redefining them, I’m trying to find a definition so that I can understand the talk at Bodies From The Library about taking the Golden Age into the 21st Century. I was under the impression that most people would assume Golden Age would take it as meaning Christiesque, as otherwise you could make a case for practically anything with a murder in it coming under the purview of that talk.

        And yes, I am giving this far too much thought…

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      • The recommended reading for that talk, btw, is the new Campion book, the new Poirot book and the first of Nicola Upson’s Joesphine Tey books. Haven’t read the first one, but I think the speaker has a more literal interpretation of the phrase than I do.

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      • But do we disqualify Hannah’s attempt because it’s rubbish? Because if that becomes a criteria then a lot of genuine Golden Age books would be binned. And of course “rubbish” is a subjective term – some people liked Monogram…

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      • I merely meant that it read like a legitimate part of the canon, which is what i thought you meant. No one seems to think the Hannah sounded anything like Christie …

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  2. I have read the book and I simply do not share your enthusiasm for the book. I rate it as Average.
    I found the writing style utterly flat and dull with a lot of unnecessary digressions and padding. I found the solution an anticlimax. I expected a further twist towards the end but that was not to be.

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