by Patricia Wentworth
The Everton murder case has long been closed. The culprit has been charged with the murder of his uncle and has served a year of his sentence already. Or has he?
The evidence against Geoffrey Grey is convincing but his wife believes in his innocence. And so does her young cousin, Hilary, who decides to solve the mystery herself.
But when Hilary turns in desperation to her ex-fiance for help, he calls upon the services of Miss Silver to help solve another mystery, which she does in her own original style.
This is The-Read-That-Almost-Wasn't. It started out as a "shared read" with Donald, but after slogging through pages of tedious legal transcripts, I decided to throw in the towel. Apparently Miss Silver mysteries are a no-go for shared reads. (Back to one of our old standbys, E.F. Benson's Lucia series!)
However, I hoped that maybe the story would flow better as a traditional, one-person read, so I picked it up where we'd left off. It's better as a read-alone book, but it took some dedication to slog through the first half of it, and while I'm rating it a three on the relative strength of the second half, I'm not sure I'd recommend it to any but the most serious fans of the genre and the star detective (Miss Silver).
This mystery suffers from that flaw so common to its genre-- the "let me repeat that for you one more time" approach to writing. Were Golden Age mystery authors paid by the word, or did they really think so poorly of the reading public that they believed we needed to read the same information-- almost verbatim-- five or six times in order for it to soak through our thick skulls? Whatever the reasoning, it's insulting and-- perhaps worse-- mentally painful to go over the same ground so many times. I understand the need to impart "the Evidence", but good grief! There are limits to my patience. The repetition was excruciating. Also, by far most of the action comes in the second half of the novel. I wonder how many readers give it up as a lost cause because nothing happens for so many pages...
Sad to say, I found the romantic couple uninteresting, uninspiring and generally unsympathetic for most of the book. (Also, why choose two names that are so similar at first glance-- Hilary and Henry?)
It seemed fairly obvious who the murderer must be, early in the book. The trick was uncovering the "how". Though it wasn't particularly innovative, at least the mystery and the fates of the characters kept me interested enough to continue reading.
This is the second in the "Miss Silver" series, and we still have Miss Silver herself in only a small percentage of the pages. A preview of the next novel offers hope that she'll be more of a presence in the third, which will be nice-- if and when I ever get around to reading it. At this point, I'm not sure what I think of Miss Silver, I've seen so little of her. All I know is that she's a dignified, plain, mousy-looking older gentlewoman who is nearly constantly knitting-- and who somehow possesses the skills necessary to work as a very discreet private investigator. I don't believe we've gotten many hints, yet, about how she works (beyond her ubiquitous notebooks) or what makes her tick. A few words indicating that would be far more welcome and engaging than the third and fourth repeats of The Evidence.
The hope of discovering more about Miss Silver is probably strong enough to convince me to read the next novel in the series-- but only just.
--The protagonist, Hilary, relies too heavily on the word "dreep". Her frequent verdicts that this woman or that woman is a dreep don't improve her in my estimation. Maybe her pet word is meant to create a "character" or indicated her "type", but whatever the intention behind its repetition, I found it annoying.
--Hilary says that Marion and Geoff were talking about red hair: "Marion said she hated it, and that she'd never have married Geoff if she'd known that it was in the family-- because of not having gingery babies, you know. They were chaffing, of course." Chaffing is teasing, so it isn't meant to be taken seriously, but it did take me aback for a moment. I'd always thought that whole "gingerism" thing was just some strange joke, but maybe for some people it's not. (There seem to be as many people who prefer red hair as those who actively dislike it.)
"'Very good-looking young men never make good husbands. My own dear husband--' A long excursus on the virtues of the late Professor, who had certainly not been renowned for his beauty. As Hilary put it afterwards-- 'A pet lamb, darling, but exactly like a ginger monkey.'"
--I think the best bit of the book was the part where Hilary is trying to make it home through the fog. If more of the book had been like that, I could give a more glowing review!