Patricia Wentworth’s Miss Silver Mysteries

Are you a fan of Agatha Christie or what are now called “cozy” mysteries (meaning there’s not a hideous serial murder slaughter on every page)? If you’re looking for an old-fashioned murder and you haven’t heard of Patricia Wentworth, you should check out her Miss Silver mysteries. Wentworth was a writer during the golden age of mysteries, writing from 1928 to her death in 1961. She’s not generally regarded as in the very top tier, with Sayers, Christie, and Marsh, but she’s only about one rung down and she was very, very prolific. Personally, I like Miss Silver much better than Miss Marple. I find her much more plausible. It’s worrying, the way people always turn up dead when Miss Marple is in the neighbourhood. Miss Silver has the excuse of being a private detective. She is called in when people are being blackmailed, when valuable objects have gone missing, when claimants to be the long-lost heir turn up. All these situations put her on the spot when the murder happens in a fairly plausible way. So, for all those who think the female private detective in fiction is an innovation … think again. There was Miss Silver, a former governess, knitting away in her office in 1928, taking case-notes in her little notebooks, and even going undercover, although always as a gentlewoman. She is kind, brisk, perceptive, and both rational and intuitive. Her strength lies not only in her analytical mind, but in her understanding of human nature. Nowadays the Miss Silver books, especially those written around the time of the Second World War, are also an interesting bit of social history, a glimpse into how people were really living at the time and what sort of escapist reading they wanted, as the bombs fell on London. Here in Dorchester we have Out of the Past and Latter End, and there are many more available that we can bring in from other branches of the NBPLS.

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