Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Through the Wall, by Patricia Wentworth

Like many of Miss Maud Silver's clients, I have begun to find her company restful and calming. When I was left a little shaken by the end of Margaret Kennedy's Troy Chimneys, I headed for that section of the TBR stacks. I wanted a story with a tidy neat ending, where virtue is rewarded and lives happily ever after. I was glad to find exactly that in this later book in the series, published in 1950.

Like the last two Miss Silver stories that I have read, the central character here inherits the family fortune. Marian Brand and her sister Ina grew up never knowing their father's family, whom he disowned as a young man. So Marian is shocked to learn that her uncle Martin has left his entire estate to her. This cuts out his brother's widow and son, who have lived with Martin for years in his home. Marian even inherits that house, which Florence and Felix Brand share with Florence's sister Cassy and a young cousin, Penny Halliday. The household also includes the resident cook, Eliza Cotton, and a very superior cat named Mactavish.

Marian has been supporting herself and her sister Ina (who "isn't strong"), as well as Ina's feckless actor husband Cyril, on the £5 a week she earns working at an estate agency. She puts up with Cyril, but she has no intention of supporting him in luxury. He soon learns though, as the other Brands do, that by the terms of the will the money goes to Felix, Florence, and Cassy in the event of Marian's death.

The house that Marian has inherited, with its inhabitants, is in the seaside town of Farne. Cove House was once two houses, now thrown together, and connected by doors on each floor. Marian decides to take Ina to live there, with the houses divided once again. The other side is a bit crowded at the moment, because Felix has invited the singer Helen Adrian to stay. A pianist, he often plays for her shows, which leaves him with little time for his own composition work. Before she travels down to Farne, Helen visits Miss Silver, to consult her about a little matter of blackmail. However, she chooses not to take Miss Silver's advice. She doesn't mention that she is going to stay in Farne, so Miss Silver has no reason to say that she is as well, to join her niece Ethel Burkett, whose small daughter Josephine is being sent for the sea air. (In this book Miss Silver is constantly knitting socks for Ethel's three school-boy sons.)

It's a nice little set-up for a mystery story. I had a pretty good idea of what was going to happen, but I very much enjoyed the way it all developed. I took an instant liking to Marian, and to Penny, Eliza and Mactavish. Ina is also an interesting character: not physically or emotionally strong, but loyal to her sister, and trying to deal with her difficult husband. There is a romance for one character, begun rather dramatically in a railroad accident, which proceeds quietly and comfortably, in contrast to more lurid and unhappy events that draw Miss Silver to Cove House. In the end, it is she who sets in train the denouement that solves the case - at one point even moving through the house in her stocking feet, though she makes sure to resume her shoes before the police arrive.

Nor is this the only incident of disrobing. Thanks to Vicki, I knew that this book features a strip-search of the female inhabitants. There has been a murder, and a female officer is checking for bloodstains. Miss Silver, staying in the house at that point, volunteers to be searched along with everyone else, which sets a good example. The officer, Mrs. Larkin,
being passionately addicted to crochet, became quite warm in her admiration of the edging which decorated Miss Silver's high-necked spencer and serviceable flannelette knickers, which had three rows on each leg, each row being a little wider than the last. On being informed that the design was original she was emboldened to ask for the pattern, which Miss Silver promised to write down for her. After which they parted on very friendly terms.
They soon meet again however, when Eliza Cotton asks Miss Silver to be present during her turn.
After which she stalked up to her room and gave Mrs. Larkin and even Miss Silver the surprise of their lives when the removal of her black afternoon dress displayed pink silk cami-knickers with French legs. Nothing more compromising than this came to light.
This book was featured on the Clothes in Books blog, with some great pictures of cami-knickers and underwear knitted and crocheted (including a bra, the thought of which gives me hives). I'm sorry that Moira didn't enjoy this book as much as I did - it's definitely one of my favorite Miss Silver adventures.


  1. I definitely want to read some of Patricia Wentworth's books next year. Do you have a favorite?

  2. This one would definitely be high on the list! Luckily they aren't really a series, so it doesn't matter if you read them out of order.

  3. I must look out for this one. I also find Miss Silver restful, it is quite strange that books featuring murders can be so relaxing!

  4. I think it's partly the lack of gore - the murders usually happen off-stage, and we don't get gruesome descriptions either of the crime or the body itself. I love NCIS, but the autopsy scenes are really starting to wear on me.

  5. Ah, the One With The Knickers... (so hard to identify the Miss Silvers by title, isn't it?).

    1. No, and you can't really go by plots either. "It's the one with the heiress to the family fortune whose family wants her dead..." "There are four of those...."


Thank you for taking the time to read, and to comment. I always enjoy hearing different points of view about the books I am reading, even if we disagree!