Rolling Stone

A review of Rolling Stone by Patricia Wentworth

I have been guilty of being a little sniffy about Camberley’s own, Patricia Wentworth, but she can tell a story and when she is on form, she is good. You can probably tell from this that I enjoyed this book, originally published in 1940 but now reissued for a modern readership by Dean Street Press. There is an element of writing to a set formula about it – international gang of criminals – tick, damsel in distress – tick, love interest – tick, country house party – tick, and so on – but the story rises above what would have otherwise been a pot boiler by virtue of its depiction of how a series of seemingly minor and trivial decisions can result in having major consequences, just as a stone rolling down a hill picks up debris along the way before coming to a crash at the bottom.

What has always puzzled me about the taxonomy of Wentworth’s books. Rolling Stone is categorised as the second of her Frank Garrett stories. The eminence grise of the Foreign Office, a spymaster general, does appear in the story and plays his part in pulling the strings, although it is his nephew, Peter Talbot, who does all the legwork, as did Bill Coverdale in the first in the Garrett mini-series, Dead or Alive. Garrett appears in several of other of Wentworth’s novels as does the criminal mastermind, Maude Millicent Simpson, supposedly England’s most deadly woman, whose machinations form the basis of the story. It is all a little confusing and probably means that any attempt to put the books into neat categories is doomed to failure.

The book opens with Peter Talbot checking into a seedy hotel where he finds himself in a room adjacent to Spike Reilly who is delirious and about to meet his maker. During his ramblings, Reilly lets out some information that so piques Talbot’s interest that he immediately assumes the dead man’s identity, cracks the code which hides his instructions and heads back to England and a country pile called Heathacres. Reilly’s instructions are to approach the house at 2am. However, he arrives there early and is surprised to have some pearls thrust into his hands by a woman who was one of the house party, only to have them snatched from his grasp by a second woman, Terry Childs.

When 2am arrives, he is handed a parcel which contains a valuable painting by JMW Turner. Terry is looking out of her window and sees some of what goes on. The following day, when the theft is discovered, she makes the mistake of hinting that she knows more about the robbery than perhaps she does and threatens to tell the police what she saw, if the painting is not returned.

Anyone who has a morsel of information that might imperil Maude’s plans to get away with another audacious art robbery is in peril and murder and abductions ensue. In a thrilling episode towards the end of the book Talbot and Childs, by now having formed a romantic attachment, are in line for an unfortunate and deadly accident. Will they survive and will the five traces of fabric that Talbot snipped from the dress of the mistress of disguises, Maude Millicent Simpson, lead to her eventual identification and demise?

I will not spoil the ending, but those who have read a number of Wentworth’s books will have a shrewd suspicion as to how it will all pan out. I found it an enjoyable read, more so than some outside of Wentworth’s better known Miss Silver series, and it allowed me to lose myself in a world of criminals and derring-do for a few hours.

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