An alternate title for this book is The Wicked Uncle, which I learned the hard way (i.e., buying two copies).
I am reading a really excellent history of the women's rights movement in the United States, on which I am taking pages of notes and about which I expect to write a gushing review. But as the long holiday weekend dawned, I suddenly wanted to read something a bit less demanding, something with story and characters (though the history is full of wonderful characters and some unbelievable stories). Reading Jenny's review of Grey Mask and Jane's of The Case is Closed put Miss Silver in my mind, and I chose this one pretty much at random. I have enjoyed all of them that I've read so far, but this is my new favorite.
The story begins with Dorinda Brown returning to the Heather Club, the dreary private hotel in London where she has a slip of a room. She has just gotten a job as secretary to the fragile and fluttery Linnet Oakley, and the salary of £3 a week will keep the proverbial wolf from her door. In her relief and joy, she rings up her cousin Justin Leigh.
Dorinda flicked the dial, put her pennies in, and waited. If anyone had been passing they might have thought she made a pleasant picture. There are so many sad faces, so many tired, lined, cross, difficult, irritable faces that it is pleasant to see a cheerful one. Dorinda nearly always looked cheerful. Even on her solitary visit to a dentist, when she had secretly been a good deal daunted by the unknown and rather terrifying apparatus which appeared to be lying in wait for her, she had contrived to smile. She went through life smiling, sometimes resolutely, but for the most part in a pleasantly spontaneous manner, and when she smiled her eyes smiled too.I think it was the "sometimes resolutely" that made me like her so much straight off. That, and her composed way of dealing with her cousin, who feels free to comment on any and all aspects of her life, including her appearance. His comments aren't compliments. But it is clear from the start that he takes a close personal interest in Dorinda, watching out for her, more carefully than she may realize. He reminded me more than a little of the "amiable snake" Randall Matthews, from Georgette Heyer's Behold, Here's Poison.
The next chapter introduces us to Gregory Porlock, a businessman with a country house near the Oakleys' Mill House. He is telephoning various people to invite them for the weekend. Most of them refuse initially, but as they talk it becomes clear that he has some hold over them, and in the end everyone reluctantly accepts. Later he calls Mrs. Oakley with an invitation to join the party for dinner one evening, and Dorinda is included in the invitation. Since she has nothing suitable to wear, she is sent back up to London to buy an evening dress, in the process of which she meets Miss Maud Silver (luckily for her).
I won't say anything more about the story, to avoid spoilers. As usual, while I spotted the future victim straight off, I had no idea who the murderer would turn out to be. I enjoyed this one very much, both for the mystery and for the sweet romance at its heart. I had ordered a copy of The Case is Closed, which arrived over the weekend, and I also came across a copy of Eternity Ring at Murder by the Book, keeping the Miss Silver section of the TBR stacks well-stocked.
A possible spoiler follows:
In all but one of the other Patricia Wentworth books I have read, the killer has always been a woman, so I was a little surprised that it was a man here. The only other exception so far was more of an execution than a murder, with no personal motive. I have actually wondered if she preferred women as murderers. I will say, she is good on motive - no falling back on serial killers or homicidal maniacs, which as Harriet Vane pointed out is "dull, and not really fair to the reader."