I have been working on a theory that the earlier books in the Miss Silver series are better than the later, or maybe I just like them more. But I really disliked the third book, Lonesome Road, from 1939. It features Rachel Treherne, who inherited her father's fortune, to the disappointment of her relatives - starting with her sister Mabel. She consults Miss Silver, because she has come to the reluctant conclusion that someone is trying to kill her. Of course Rachel doesn't want to believe that someone in her family could really want to kill her, and she resists Miss Silver's advice. In every other book in this series that I've read, people who ignore Miss Silver's advice end up dead. Not content with ignoring sensible advice, Rachel announces one day to these relatives that she will be walking along a cliff-side path that night. When she sets off on the walk, she discovers that the battery in her torch is dying, but she knows the path so well that she has no qualms about proceeding. She is much more surprised than I was when someone looms out of the dark and pushes her over the cliff. Luckily for her, she manages to cling to a small outcropping until she can be rescued from above with a rope.
When we first meet Candida Sayle, on the first page of The Benevent Treasure, she is clinging to a small outcropping on the face of a cliff. She manages to hang on until she can be rescued from above with a rope. She didn't fall over, though. Arriving at a small seaside hotel, she found the friends she was meeting were delayed. She decided to take a walk along the shore, after two elderly ladies she met in the reception area told her that the high tide would be at 11 PM. She was caught by the high water at 9 PM and had to make a dash for the cliff face.
When the story picks up three years later, we learn that Candida is alone in the world, having lost both her parents and the aunt who brought her up. She is surprised to receive an invitation to the home of two great-aunts on her father's side, Miss Cara and Miss Olivia Benevent. She is even more surprised to learn that she is the next heiress to the family fortune, after Miss Cara. And that fortune includes the mysterious Benevent Treasure, which their ancestor Ugo di Benevento supposedly brought with him when he fled Italy in the 1700s. No one knows exactly where the treasure is - if it really exists - but an old family legend warns Ugo's descendants "Touch not nor try/Sell not nor buy/Give not nor take/For dear life's sake." It isn't too long before Miss Silver arrives in the small town of Retley. A distant cousin of her own lives there, but she has also been asked to investigate the disappearance of Alan Thompson, who worked as a secretary to the Misses Benevent. He vanished one day, along with jewelry and money from their home, but his step-father doesn't believe him guilty. Nor is his the only mysterious disappearance.
I thought The Benevent Treasure was great, over-the-top fun. The Benevents live in a massive old house, the kind with nooks and crannies everywhere - and rumors of secret passageways. Of course, if you're going to have a hidden family treasure, you need secret passageways. And of course there is a romance for Candida, with the type of imperious young man that so frequently turns up in these stories. (Patricia Wentworth seems to have had a soft spot for angry young men in love.) There is also a surly manservant, and a slightly hysterical female one. Both are Italian, and not quite free of stereotypes (o dio mio). This is another point of similarity with Lonesome Road, where Rachel has her maid Louisa, a hysterical and smothering woman whom I found really irritating. I think Rachel should pension her off immediately, but Louisa would probably kill herself and/or Rachel at the thought of being separated from her.
I have been trying to figure out why I enjoyed The Benevent Treasure so much, and Lonesome Road so little. I think it's mainly because the first is just plain fun - a Gothic and gruesome ending, with bodies everywhere, and buried treasure - while the second feels not just serious but rather dreary. Maybe the latter reflects the unsettled times in which it was written. I still have a good few of these to read, mostly from the 1950s, and they may prove my theory completely wrong.
Oh, and for anyone else keeping track: in this book Miss Silver knits several pairs of grey stockings for her niece Ethel Burkett's three sons, and then starts on a blue jumper for Ethel herself.