The Case Is Closed

A review of The Case is Closed by Patricia Wentworth

Say what you will about Patricia Wentworth, and I have been known to say a bit, but Camberley’s finest certainly know how to write a page turner. It is what is contained within the pages that can be a bit of a letdown. This is the second in Wentworth’s acclaimed Miss Silver series and was originally published in 1937, nine years after the spinster sleuth’s first outing in Grey Mask. Despite my reservations about her as a writer, I am told that her Miss Silver series contains some of Wentworth’s better work. We will see.

The premise of the book is one that is familiar to readers of the genre, someone who looks to be as guilty as sin but whose innocence someone is determined to prove. Things look black for Geoffrey Grey, already convicted of murdering his uncle, James Everton, after he had been disinherited. A shot was heard and when the servants, the Mercers, enter the room, they find Geoffrey standing over the dead body with a gun in his hand. If that was not enough, the only two other plausible suspects, Bertie and Frank Everton, have impeccable alibis. Hilary Carew, Geoffrey’s relative by marriage, is convinced of his innocence, despite the case being closed.

Of course, the murder is not as simple as it seems and not only is justice served but Hilary gets her man, Henry from whom she has split up at the beginning of the book. All live happily ever after.

Miss Silver makes an appearance around the halfway mark of the book, engaged by Henry on the recommendation of Charles Moray, whom she had helped in her first outing, Grey Mask. Miss Silver is an infuriating character, operating from a desk, knitting away, jotting down a few notes, suggesting some areas of enquiry and making intuitive deductions, based on her observations of human nature. She may get the credit for solving which really is a fairly simple case that involves breaking the alibis and a red wig, but much of the legwork is done by Hilary and Henry.

Hilary is a headstrong, determined woman on a mission, willing to pawn her aunt’s ring to finance a journey to aid the investigation, but for all her positive traits, Wentworth portrays her as a weak, silly woman who needs the protection and love of a man. Hilary gets into a number of scrapes, but they all follow the same essential pattern. She goes off to somewhere she is unfamiliar with in search of something and, astonishingly, bumps into the same people who put her in danger – there are least two attempts on her life – but each time Henry is there on his white charger to rescue her. It is as if Wentworth is writing to a set template and it is hard to understand why henry keeps bailing her out. It must be love.

The plot revolves round too many coincidences for my liking, even at the outset when Hilary, having got on the wrong train, finds herself in the very same compartment of a railway carriage as a distraught Mrs Mercer, the servant who found Geoffrey with the gun. Imagine that. After surviving an attempt to mow her down, Hilary follows a rutted track which takes her to a cottage, the very one that Mrs Mercer is staying in temporarily. When up in Glasgow, waiting for Henry outside a tenement, Hilary spots Mrs Mercer at the window, and so it goes on.

It is all a bit of fun if you do not take it too seriously, a light read where you can disengage the brain. Like Miss Silver, Patricia Wentworth still remains an enigma to me.

The Conference Pear

One of the joys of autumn is the appearance of indigenous pears on supermarket shelves, October 4th marking the start of this year’s British apple and pear season. While there may be over five hundred varieties of pear, according to the Defra National Fruit Collection, the odds are that the British pear you will see on the shelves will be a Conference, which, at 15,600 tonnes in 2020, accounted for over 90% of the UK’s commercial pear production.

Slightly larger than other varieties, the Conference has a distinctive elongated bottle shape and a thick greenish-brown skin that attains a yellowish hue as it ripens. The brown patches on its skin, which can seem disconcerting to the eye, are known as russets and are not only edible but give the fruit a delicious nutty flavour. Russeting is generally caused by moisture on the fruit’s skin as it grows.

One of the Conference’s advantages is that it can be eaten when slightly unripe or ripe, its taste and characteristics changing between the two states. Unripe, its flesh is white, crunchy, with a slightly acidic taste, making it ideal for cooking as it keeps its shape reasonably well. Left in the fruit bowl for a couple of days to ripen, the flesh turns to a slightly yellowish colour, and is soft, juicy, and sweet. A case of chacun à son gout.

Once picked the Conference has a long storage life, if kept at temperatures of around minus one degree Centigrade. Gardeners will find that they will last well into January if they are put in a refrigerator. Fruiting when it is around three years old, a year earlier, on average, than its rivals, the Conference reaches maximum cropping potential at around the six-year mark. Disease free, it can have a productive life of around 35 to forty years, although they will live for much longer. It is easy to see why the Conference has dominated the market.

The pear, Pyrus communis, the fifth most widely produced fruit in the world, originated in China and Asia Minor, but soon spread westwards. The palace of Alcinous had “pear upon pear waxing ripe”, according to the Homeric Odyssey (7.120), one of “the glorious gifts of the gods” bestowed upon the king of the Phaeacians. By the first century BC the Romans, using propagation methods not dissimilar to those deployed today, had more than forty cultivars while a century later Pliny the Elder, in his Naturalis Historia, detailed all the known varieties.

The Romans almost certainly introduced cultivated pears to western Europe, including Britain. In the Middle Ages pears were mainly used for cooking, either stewed or baked and flavoured in honey and sweet wine, in an attempt to make what was a tough, grainy, and sour fruit vaguely edible. However, by the 17th century, the royal horticulturalist, Jean-Baptiste de la Quintinie, however, had so advanced the cultivation of the pear that it was deemed a fruit worthy to grace the table of Louis XIV.

Amongst Quintinie’s creations was a buttery eating pear. Many of the varieties he grew would seem unfamiliar to us, some so small that they hung like a bunch of grapes while others were gigantic. Quintinie was an enthusiastic fan, writing in 1661 that “among all the fruits in this place [Versailles], nature does not show anything so beautiful nor so noble as this pear. It is pear that makes the greatest honour on the tables”. Sadly, they were beyond the pocket of all but the rich.

To be continued….

If you enjoyed this, why not check out More Curious Questions, available now.

Art Critic Of The Week (4)

Modern art, especially so-called street art, can be bewildering at times to the viewer. The artist is looking to provoke a reaction, but American graffiti artist, John Andrew Perello, got more than he bargained for when his abstract piece which goes by the original name of “Untitled” was displayed at P/O/S/T, a gallery in Seoul’s Lotte Street Mall.

A strikingly colourful piece, it measures 22.9 feet by 7.8 feet. It is displayed complete with paint buckets and brushes lying beneath, an integral part of the artwork, according to the artist. A young couple on March 28th saw the paints as an invitation to collaborate and they cheerfully added a few strokes of their own, damaging a painting valued at $440,000.

The couple were caught on CCTV and were embarrassed by their mistake. No charges were pressed, and the vandalised or enhanced painting remained on display until the exhibition ended. The artist was initially upset, but after some reflection considered that the South Koreans additions to his painting showed how art connects with us all.

Beauty, they say, is in the eyes of the beholder.

To see more of his work, follow the link:

Calendar Of The Week

Looking for an unusual gift for someone who is hard to buy for? Fed up with calendars celebrating cute pets or ephemeral pop stars? If so, Kevin Beresford from Redditch may have the answer to your prayers.

The enterprising Kevin has an unexpected hit on his hands, a calendar that celebrates the park benches of his hometown and surrounding area. It is A3 in size and features a variety of benches from grimy street benches to picturesque wooden benches on rural village greens. There is even a picnic bench with disabled access.

Such is the demand that Beresford has had to turn his flat into a full-time calendar factory, printing up to 100 copies a day.

If benches are not your thing, don’t worry. He started publishing quirky calendars in 2003 with his Roundabouts of Redditch and for 2022 he has a selection of five to choose from, including Car Parks of Britain and the Wonderful World of Jack Grealish’s Calves.

Not all his calendars are successful. His Roadkill calendar was as much a flop as its subject matter.

This one, though, seems to be a winner.

Six Of The Gang

The names of some objects become a portmanteau word to describe that machine, irrespective of its manufacturer. A classic example would be a hoover. In the 19th century this fate befell Aspinall. It was enamel, the word used either as a noun or a verb, and was derived from Aspinall, the inventor and manufacturer of an oxidized enamel paint. It was more widely used to refer to any form of enamel or paint.

‘Awkins was a term used to denote a severe man, one not to be trifled with. It owed its origin to a judge, Sir Frederick Hawkins, who in 1880s earned himself a reputation amongst the lower and criminal classes as a hanging judge. He was a right ‘Awkins.

In the public house a baby referred to a small measure or a half. A baby and nurse was a term for a small bottle of soda-water with two-penny-worth of spirits added. A baby’s public house, though, was a mother’s suckling breast. Passing English of the Victorian Era gives an insight into the, by modern standards, lax standards of behaviour in the 1880s by reporting “a six-year-old baby that is suckled at the breast when it asks for baby’s public house, and that fills up the intervals between refreshment by smoking cigarettes”. Call the authorities”    

If you were to enter a pub at the time, you would need to keep a careful look out for a back row hopper, described as “an impecunious man who enters one of these houses on the pretence of looking for somebody, and the certain hope of finding somebody ready and willing to pay for a drink”. We have all met those.