Author: Patricia Wentworth
Where did I get this book: Inherited from my grandparents
Finished on: 27 February 2017
Agatha Christie wrote that her world famous heroine Miss Marple, conceived in 1930, was inspired by her ‘grandmother’s Ealing cronies – old ladies that I have met in so many villages’.
But having read this, my first experience of Patricia Wentworth’s uncannily perceptive spinster detective Miss Silver, I am not so sure.
Miss Silver first appeared in 1928, two years earlier than Miss Marple’s debut. The similarities between them are unmistakable. And not just their age and village-dwelling singledom. The way they are consistently underestimated, and disarm potential suspects into revealing more than they intend; their ambiguous relationships with the police, who often take credit for their insights; their cosy, cloistered and conservative exteriors that hide razor sharp perception. Marple and Silver share all these qualities, and more.
The structure of the book is also familiar to the Christie fans among us. There is a well-defined group of people who become suspects, most of whom have a previously disclosed reason to want a certain objectionable individual out of the way. There are layers of plot gradually revealed as we discover what are the genuine clues, and what are red herrings. Any grisly elements are kept brief and superficial, meaning that events unfold with that gorgeously comforting feeling of the traditional English village whodunit.
Miss Silver is a professional detective, while Miss Marple is very much the gifted amateur. And there are other points of difference. Based on this, my first foray into her work, Wentworth doesn’t have the genius of Christie when it comes to plotting. There isn’t that extraordinary sleight of hand to make us concentrate our attention elsewhere, while simultaneously laying out all the clues we would need if only we were paying attention in the right place.
I did guess who the killer was early on, primarily based on the structure of the book rather than any inappropriately large early clues. And this may be down to extreme whodunit geekdom on my part, rather than shortcomings in Wentworth’s writing. But it doesn’t often happen with Christie.
I will have to read more Miss Silver mysteries to see if my guess was down to beginner’s luck, or a tendency by Wentworth to give away her killer’s identity to those of us well-steeped in crime fiction tropes.
But this book is enormously enjoyable, and I would be more than happy to conduct lengthy research into Wentworth’s skills in plot construction.
So the truth is, whether Christie got inspiration for Miss Marple from Wentworth or not, there’s more than enough room for both of these wonderful sleuths in my life.