The Chinese Shawl, Patricia Wentworth
I waited out my turn in the library queue for a much-hyped new mystery, set at an English seaside hotel in the 1930s. I lost interest in it about half-way through, though I did flip to the end to find out who the murderer was. It left me in the mood for a real Golden Age detective story, so I turned to the Miss Silver section of the TBR shelves. The Chinese Shawl, published in 1943, is one of the first that I found when I began looking for her books, earlier this year.
The story is set in motion when Laura Fane comes up to London just before her 21st birthday. There she meets some distant cousins for the first time, including Tanis Lyle, a femme fatale well-known for appropriating other women's fiancés and even husbands. An orphan like Laura, she was raised by an older cousin, Agnes Fane, who lives on the family's country estate, the Priory. Another umarried cousin, Lucy Adams, lives there as well. Laura's father was once engaged to Agnes, and when he jilted her for Laura's mother, it created a breach in the family. Laura technically owns the Priory, which Agnes rents from her, but she has never seen it. Now that she is coming of age, Agnes wants to buy it from her. As part of her campaign, she invites Laura down to the Priory. Tanis will be there with a party that includes her latest victim Alastair, his almost-fiancée Petra, and a young man who has just gotten over Tanis, Carey Desborough. Agnes is convinced that Carey and Tanis are about to announce their engagement, when in fact he and Laura have fallen in love at first sight. Fortunately for everyone in this tense situation, an old school-friend of Cousin Lucy's is also staying at the Priory: Miss Maud Silver.
In the Miss Silver books that I have read so far, it has been pretty easy to spot the future victim(s). I have also noticed that sardonic young men, particularly if they are in love, are never the murderers, no matter how good a motive they may seem to have. The household staff are usually in the clear as well. But that can still leave a wide field of suspects, and here again I had no idea until the end who done it. I will say that there is a passage in this book that gave me the cold shivers, and made me wish I wasn't reading it late at night. While enjoyable as mysteries, none of her other stories has built to that level of suspense. To balance that, this was easily the most romantic of her books that I have read, with Laura and Carey's rather sweet courtship, carried out under difficult circumstances. There are other couples as well, who must deal with the damage that Tanis has done to their relationships.
This was a tricky little story, and I enjoyed it very much. I am glad to have a few more Miss Silver stories on the TBR shelves, to carry me through the Double Dog Dare.