Pursuit of a Parcel – Patricia Wentworth
I seem to be getting a bit of a bee in my bonnet about titles but the best you can say about this, a 1942 romantic thriller from the prolific Patricia Wentworth and reissued by Dean Street Press, is that if you cannot think of a decent one, you may as well describe what is in the tin. The story concerns itself with the hunt for a parcel, no ordinary one, mind you, but the pursuit of a parcel, nonetheless.
For those who like to categorise books into neat piles, this is variously described as the third Inspector Ernest Lamb novel, Miss Silver’s usual detective foil. The good Inspector and his loyal sidekick, Sergeant Abbott, duly feature in this story but do not appear until the latter stages and even then, have only a marginal impact on the resolution of matters. There is little in the way of actual detection. They just appear in the nick of time and wrap things up. You could make a strong case that this is as much a Frank Garrett novel, as Wentworth’s spymaster general appears earlier on in the book and at least has some input into Anthony Rossiter’s actions. Why not just treat the book as a stand-alone?
The story is set during the Second World War and the hero, Anthony Rossiter, is a British secret agent, recruited to find his adopted brother, Cornelius Roos, who is operating in Holland. Cornelius implores Anthony to return to Blighty and take care of a parcel which Cornelius has sent him which contains incriminating material which a leading Nazi does not want to fall into the wrong hands. By the time Anthony returns to England, the poste restante to which the parcel and a wax cylinder containing a recording of some indiscreet remarks has been blown to smithereens by a German bomb. The parcel is then taken by the clerk to his home, which is promptly burgled, but the thieves fail to get their hands on it because it had been removed to an air raid shelter during a bombing raid.
The clerk, realising that the parcel is hot property and that some unsavoury characters acting on behalf of the Nazis are after it, takes it to the home of his employer. The lawyer has been hospitalised after the bombing of his office and so Delia, his somewhat naïve niece, takes possession of the parcel. Naturally, Delia just happens to be the fiancée of Anthony Rossiter and her involvement with the parcel puts her life in jeopardy. Anthony does what any red-blooded Englishman would do and rides to her rescue. It is all touch and go but Delia is made of sterner stuff and more resourceful than it seemed at first.
It is all nonsense, of course, and as a thriller is somewhat lightweight. There is no mystery to resolve, just the personal safety of the protagonists and the parcel and the capture of the nasties to ensure. Much of the plotting is preposterous, unconvincing and heavily reliant upon coincidence. But it is thoroughly entertaining, particularly the first part of the book, and Wentworth does know how to engage with her readers and carry them along, even though they realise at the end that what they have read is as intellectually satisfying as a stick of candy floss.
If you do not want to engage your brain, this is ideal beach fodder.