Miss Maud Hephzibah Silver made her first appearance in 1929, but readers who met her then had an eight year wait before they could meer her again, in 1937’s ‘The Case is Closed’.
The story is engaging from the start: Hilary has stepped on to a train, after an argument with her fiancé, Henry, and because she had wanted to make a dramatic exit she had got on to the wrong train. As she watched for the next stop an elderly woman approached her, eager to speak to her quickly, while her husband was out of earshot. Hilary was inclined to think she was mad, but when she asked for news of the friend Hilary was staying with, with real concern, she realised that maybe the woman had a genuine interest. And very real fears.
Hilary was staying with her friend, Marion; because Marion was finding it difficult to cope with the aftermath of her husband’s conviction for murder. His was the case that was closed When Hilary described the woman and the incident on the train Marion was able to tell her she was. The woman who had wept in court as she reluctantly gave the evidence that made it inevitable that her husband, Geoff, would be found guilty.
Marion had bowed to the inevitable – the loss of her marriage, the loss of the possibility of children, the loss of her position in society – and she slipped away quietly to her job in a dress shop where she was known by a name that was not her own. While she was away Hilary began to examine all of the paperwork about Geoff’s trial, because she was quite that he was innocent.
The story played out beautifully, and though I guessed how the mystery would play out the characters and their relationships were engaging and believable. I was involved, and I wanted to be there as events played out.
I understood why Marion was very nearly broken, and just wanted to be left alone to drift through what was left of her life. I felt for her. I also understood what Hilary, who was lovely and more than a little headstrong, had to find out more and desperately wanted to do something. I liked her, I loved her spirit and energy, but I worried that she would run in to trouble when she began to make enquiries of her own.
Hilary had a very bad scare, and that made her realise that she needed help. She turned to Henry, her sensible, practical estranged fiancé, and he turned to the detective that his good friend – Charles Moray, of ‘Grey Mask’ fame – had recommended. Miss Silver.
I was delighted that Miss Silver was just as I had remembered her. She presented herself as a ‘professional aunt, she knitted at a rate of knots, but she was also a very capable detective. She had followed the case, and she had ideas about how to proceed. Her presence was very low-key though, and it almost seemed that she was steering Hilary and Henry to the solution of the mystery.
And sure enough, a couple of chapters from the end, Hilary had the same thought that I had a couple of chapters from the beginning!
The real strength of this book was the relationship between Hilary and Henry. They had opposite temperaments, but though they squabbled they complemented each other beautifully. I hoped that they’d realise that. And that they’d realise that they loved each other.
So this is a mystery that works because the human story is so good, and because the Patricia Wentworth wrote very well, with warmth and with wit. She picked out exactly the right details, there were some lovely touches, and I particularly liked Hilary’s habit of turning her thoughts into rhyming couplets.
I’d call this a lovely period piece. And maybe issue a warning that some of the attitudes to relationships between classes and sexes are quite dated.
My only disappointment was that the story was a little muddled at the end and that it was wrapped up rather quickly. I would have loved to have seen more of everyone’s reactions to the revelations and to what happened afterwards.
I’d have liked to have spent a little more time with Miss Silver too; but I see that there are thirty more books in the series. I’m already looking forward to the next one.