A review of Pilgrim’s Rest by Patricia Wentworth
There have always been Pilgrims at Pilgrim’s Rest. Any member of the family who has the audacity to suggest putting the property up for sale seems to meet an untimely death. There is not something nasty lurking in the woodshed, more something unpleasant lying in the cellar. The body count is high in this, the tenth in Patricia Wentworth’s Miss Silver series, originally published in 1946 and which goes by the alternative title, Dark Threat, in the States, a curious but entertaining story.
The set up requires a suspension of belief as there is coincidence after coincidence. Detective Sergeant Frank Abbott just happens to bump into a Judy Elliott, for whom he has been carrying a flame but has not seen for a year, and she tells him that it just happens that she has accepted a job offer at Pilgrim’s Rest which just happens to be in the village where Frank grew up. Frank does not want her to take the job because some strange things have been happening there over the last three years – a disappearance, an odd horse accident, and two near-death experiences for the present incumbent, Roger Pilgrim.
Indeed, Frank has advised Roger to consult Miss Silver over his fears that someone is out to kill him, having survived a ceiling falling down around him and a fire. Miss Silver obliges and settles in at Pilgrim’s Rest, ostensibly to protect Roger. She fails miserably, as Roger falls out of a window to his death, ignoring her advice that he should not proceed with putting the house up for sale. The other son, who has been taken prisoner of war in the Far East is reported as having died, conveniently, at around the same time and so responsibility for the house passes to an invalid cousin who is under the constant care of a live-in nurse.
Miss Silver, convinced that the deaths of Roger and his father were suspicious rather than unfortunate accidents and that there was someone who was determined to prevent the sale of the house, wonders whether it is all linked to the mysterious disappearance of one of the family three years ago. A search of the house reveals a grisly secret, as well as a whiff of cannabis indica, but who could be the culprit. Was it the butler, Robbins, who hides a dark family secret and is occasionally spaced, the two maiden aunts, one a gardening enthusiast and the other one who takes delight in her various incapacities, or the nurse who has been living in for just over three years?
Much of the charm of the book is the interplay between Miss Silver and two of her favourite detectives, Abbott, an ardent fan of hers, (no Lamb this time) and Randall March, whose governess she used to be, but who on this occasion becomes exasperated with her theorising that disturbs what, to his mind, is an open and shut case. Oddly, the culprit is revealed with a good chunk of the book still to go, and they get away with it. The rest of the book generates some thrills and spills with an abduction and a car chase and the simmering love interest which flits in and out of the story line comes to a surprising end.
There are too many coincidences for this plot to work, but Wentworth is a good story teller, the narrative is well-paced, and the reader is happy to let her guide them where she wills. Her books are never classics, but usually entertaining. This one fits the bill.