The Blind Side

The Blind Side – Patricia Wentworth

I must admit I have been struggling to get into Patricia Wentworth. She was such a prolific writer and has retained a reasonable reputation even to this day that it must be possible to find some wheat amongst the chaff. With The Blind Side, another book with a dreadful title, I seem to have struck lucky as it was a passable piece of entertainment.

Published in 1939 and reissued by the indefatigable Dean Street Press, it is billed as the first of what was to become a series of three books featuring Inspector Ernest Lamb and his trusty sergeant, Frank Abbott, both of whom feature in many of Wentworth’s Miss Silver capers. However, that is a bit of a misdescription as Lamb really plays little part in the detection. Instead Peter Renshaw, a member of the Craddock clan, puts the pieces of the puzzle together and works out who killed his cousin, Ross Craddock.

Ross seems to have gone out of his way to collect enemies. Taking advantage of the death of his spinster cousin, Mary, he has given her sister, Lucy, notice to quit one of the flats in Craddock Mansions where she has lived for thirty years. Lucy seems to have upset him because of her disapproval of his carrying on with another cousin, the ditzy Mavis. On the night of the murder Lucy left to go on a cruise and another relative, Miss Lee, came to stay in her flat. Ross and Mavis have a violent row in which Mavis hits Ross over the head with a whisky decanter. Outside the night club where they had been, Mavis’ boyfriend was heard threatening to kill Mavis. Just for good measure, Ross had upset the caretaker, Rush, by accusing him of rifling through his papers.

On the night in question Lee, conveniently a sleepwalker, finds that she has blood on her feet and there are bloody footprints leading from Ross’ flat to her own. Mavis who, after the row stays in Peter’s flat, they are all conveniently adjacent to each other, has blood on her dress and is spotted by Peter returning to the flat a second time. Ross is found murdered, shot. Who did it?

Although some of the characters are stereotypical, eavesdropping, gossiping women, silly girls, the dependable hero, pompous retainer, comedy drunken char, and an unworldly and easily flustered old maid, they make for an entertaining collection of suspects. The plethora of Craddocks we meet at the beginning is bewildering, but it all begins to make sense as the book settles down. And to add a further complication, Sergeant Abbott was Peter’s fag at school. Fancy that!

The plot works without creaking too much at the seams, there are twists and turns and moments of tension and the revelation of the culprit is a bit of a surprise, almost out of the blue. It takes a flash of inspiration from Peter to bring the case to a resolution and, frankly, the reader has to take much of it on trust. I much prefer a story that sprinkles the clues in the narrative, giving the reader the opportunity to exercise their sleuthing skills. In retrospect, the culprit has motive enough and opportunity to seek their revenge on Ross.

It is not a great book but was enthralling enough to keep me entertained.

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