A review of Miss Silver Intervenes by Patricia Wentworth
I must confess I have struggled with Patricia Wentworth at times. This book, though, her sixth in the Miss Silver series, originally published in 1943 and also going by the alternative title of Miss Silver Deals with Death, is one of her better ones. There is a welcome return for two of her stalwart police officers, Lamb, now Chief Inspector, and Abbott and a namecheck for Frank Garrett, surely enough for the taxonomists to claim it as belonging to his series.
It falls to Miss Silver, though, to work out what is going on at Vandeleur House, a once great London mansion but now converted into eight flats. Conveniently it has a ledge running around the exterior of each of the floors and a fire escape connecting each ledge. It also, conveniently, has a caretaker who regulates his life like clockwork, leaving his post at 8.30 pm each night for a pint and a game of darts, and the spare keys to the apartments unguarded in his room. Such seemingly mundane pieces of information acquire increasing importance as the tale unfolds.
It would not be a Patricia Wentworth tale without a damsel in distress, in this case Maude, Mrs Underwood’s niece, who was torpedoed whilst crossing the Atlantic with her fiancé, Giles. Giles is presumed dead but Maude spots him in London where he tells her that, conveniently, he has lost his short-term memory. Maude takes him back but is mortified when Carola invites her into her flat and shows her a photograph of Giles taking pride of place. Maude assumes that Carola’s story that Giles is her husband at face value. She goes from despair to ecstasy to despair in double quick time.
The sleuth is consulted, rather hesitantly, by Mrs Underwood who eventually reveals that she is being blackmailed. The woman she suspects that is behind the blackmailing, Carola Roland, is found dead, bludgeoned to death with a statuette which has been cleaned but left near the body. One of her diamond rings has been switched, replaced by one with a stone made of paste. One of the residents who has fallen on hard times suddenly comes into some money. It emerges that she had switched the gems and sold the ring. Giles, conveniently, recovers part of his memory and sets Maude’s mind at rest but goes up to Carola’s flat.
Did he kill Carola or was her murder Mrs Underwood’s attempt to stop the blackmail or the consequence of the gem switch or was there more going on?
There are some wonderful characters in the story, not least Mrs Smollett, the charlady who “does for” many of the tenants and is an inexhaustible source of information about the characteristics, foibles, and backgrounds of her clientele. Time spent helping her doing the washing up provides Miss Silver with invaluable information. She is convinced that blackmail is behind the murders and that Carola, far from being the blackmailer, was a victim herself of a much larger blackmail ring.
Miss Silver becomes increasingly interested in the exterior fittings of Vandeleur House, the night-time somnambulism of Mrs Underwood’s maid, and the backgrounds of some of the other helpers employed by the tenants. A trip to Tunbridge Wells clarifies matters in her mind and in a set piece she calls all the residents of the apartments to a meeting in which she reveals both the whodunit and the howdunit elements of the story. Sergeant Abbott is in awe of her masterly resolution of a problem which seemed to be beyond the police who fell hook line and sinker for the obvious.
It is not the most complex of plots, for sure, but the book is an engaging and entertaining read. The character and style of Miss Silver is now settled. If only Wentworth would lose the love interest.