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Saturday 6 February 2021

Golden Age - Where are They Now?

Early Detectives—
Forgotten, Remembered or Made Different

Part 2:
Inspector French, Roger Sheringham, Miss Marple, Miss Silver.

by Carol Westron

In Part 1 of this exploration of the fate of early detectives, all of which were popular and widely read in the Golden Age, we considered Sherlock Holmes, Doctor Thorndyke, Father Brown, Detective Inspectors Furnival & Stoddard, Hercule Poirot and Lord Peter Wimsey.

In this section we will look at four more Golden Age detectives, all well-known in their time but only one of whom is still a household name, and in recent years she definitely falls into the ‘made different’ category.

 Inspector Joseph French (1924-1957) by Freeman Wills Crofts

Freeman Wills Crofts introduces his long-term fictional detective in Inspector French’s Greatest Case (1924), the fifth novel he published, and French soon established himself as the author’s primary detective, featuring in thirty novels, written over a period of thirty-three years. Inspector French was a very different style of detective from the aristocratic and eccentric amateurs that dominated crime fiction at that time. In 1936, when French had featured in some thirteen full-length mysteries, Crofts’ American publisher stated that Crofts had deliberately created Inspector French ‘as a foil to the theatrical and eccentric fictional sleuth’ and that the police detective was ‘a model of thoroughness, persistence and hard work.’

 French is an ordinary, middle-class man, whose idea of relaxation is to sit at home, in his slippers, reading stories of sea adventures, and at weekends driving into the countryside for a stroll with his wife. He is totally unlike the elegant, aristocratic detective, Peter Wimsey, or the eccentric foreigner, Hercule Poirot. In his article Meet Inspector French (1935), Crofts describes French’s main characteristics as ‘thoroughness and perseverance as well as a reasonable amount of intelligence.’ Crofts’ first profession had been as an engineer, and his plots usually involve timetables and the breaking of apparently indestructible alibis. In some ways, French bears a resemblance to the long-suffering Detective Inspector Charles Parker, who has accepted that his role in any investigation he shares with Wimsey is to do the boring tasks that require routine work. However, French’s work has its share of violence and danger, as when French and his ‘greatest friend’ Inspector Tanner, had shared ‘The adventure with the Mills’ bomb in the refreshment room at Waverley Station, Edinburgh,’  which was  ‘only one occasion where the prompt help of the one had saved the life of the other.’ (Mystery in the Channel, 1931.)

As might be expected, French’s wife, Emily, is very different from the wives of Wimsey, Campion and Alleyn. She is no crime fiction writer, engineer or artist with her own independent career, but a woman contented in the domestic sphere, looking after her home, husband and family. As she sits, knitting or mending, she occasionally has small ‘notions’ that help French to solve his cases, but her involvement in his cases is minimal.

Although he is a Scotland Yard detective, French does not always obey the law in all matters and has been known to transgress in such ways as using skeleton keys to illegally search buildings. His usual manner is calm and matter-of-fact, but he can be moved to anger and a passion for justice, as when the body of an innocent, murdered witness is discovered buried in an embankment: ‘French was accustomed to murder and its awful results, but when he looked down on that face and thought of how it had been brought into that state, his anger grew hot against the criminal... If the murderer were not caught and if the murderer were not hanged, it would not be French’s fault.’ (The Hog’s Back Mystery, 1933)

The first fourteen of Crofts’ detective novels featuring French were cleverly crafted, straight-forward mysteries that were usually dependent on French breaking a cunningly constructed alibi. However, in The 12.30 From Croydon (1934), French appeared in his first inverted novel, in which the story begins with the killer planning and perpetrating his crime; as in a normal crime novel, the detective’s task is to identify the killer and prove his or her guilt, but in this case the reader initially knows a lot more than the detective.  French met the challenges of the inverted novel with the confidence of an excellent craftsman and at the end of The 12.30 From Croydon, French received his long-awaited promotion to Chief Inspector.

In Julian Symons’ book about crime fiction, Bloody Murder (1972) Symons’ speaks disparagingly of the Inspector French novels as part of the ‘Humdrum’ style of detective fiction, a criticism he made of many puzzle style detective novels, especially those that didn’t have a flamboyant and eccentric central protagonist. While this sweeping judgement is often unjust, it has to be admitted that, although several of the French novels have been republished by The British Library Crime Classics, they have not retained the popular staying power of Poirot or Wimsey. This is strange, considering that, in the 1920s, Crofts frequently outsold Christie. It is possible that one reason for this is that the reader was offered too little information about French’s personal life, probably because it did not interest his author. In Meet Inspector French (1935), Crofts admits that he believed he had given French and his wife children, but then he had forgotten about them. If an author who could work out and retain the most complex of alibis, was so disinterested in his protagonist’s family life, it must have made it harder for some readers to relate to him, especially when other authors were sharing intimate details of their detectives’ lives.

 Roger Sheringham (1925-1934) by Anthony Berkeley

In the mid-1920s the contest to create an unusual and memorable detective was really on. Freeman Wills Croft had chosen to write about an ordinary, middle-class, hard-working police detective; Anthony Berkeley went to the other extreme and, in The Layton Court Mystery (1925), he introduced Roger Sheringham, a flamboyant, arrogant amateur detective, the son of a doctor, educated at public school and Oxford, who writes successful novels and also writes for the newspapers. As Martin Edwards observes in The Golden Age of Murder (2015), Sheringham’s background ‘bears an uncanny resemblance to his creator.’  It can be argued that Sheringham is one of the most fallible and objectionable fictional sleuths ever to be created, and this was no accident, Berkeley had every intention of making Sheringham ‘an offensive person, founded on an offensive person I once knew, because in my original innocence I thought it would be amusing to have an offensive detective.’

Of all the Golden Age fictional detectives, Sheringham is the one who can be most closely identified with his creator, and Berkeley has the unfortunate habit of using Sheringham to air his own opinions or to take revenge on those who had offended him. In the second Sheringham novel, The Wychford Poisoning Case published in 1926, Sheringham gives full vent to his (and one suspects his author’s) misogynistic attitudes: ‘Nearly all women... are idiots... charming idiots, delightful idiots, adorable idiots, if you like, but always idiots, and mostly damnable idiots as well; most women are potential devils, you know. They live entirely by their emotions, both in thought and deed, they are fundamentally incapable of reason and their one idea in life is to appear attractive to men.’ 

In The Wychford Poisoning Case, Sheringham spends a great deal of time expressing his antipathy to the modern ‘flapper’ as embodied by a young woman called Sheila, who gets spanked more than once in the novel;
Sheringham being one of the men responsible for one of these assaults. Sheringham’s attitudes to society are strangely contradictory and seem designed to suit his convenience, he approves of divorce and adultery but reveals a peculiar priggishness in his attitude to women, and his preference for those who display old-fashioned virtues:
‘Roger could have kissed her for the slightly pedantic way she spoke, which, after a surfeit of hostesses and modernly slangy young women, he found altogether charming.’  (The Silk Stocking Murders,1928). Also in this book, Sheringham’s anti-Semitic views are made clear. Although these attitudes were prevalent in the 1920s and 1930s, few other detectives showed the dislike of Jews that Sheringham does.

 Roger Sheringham and the Vane Mystery (1927) introduces Inspector Moresby of Scotland Yard. Moresby is the detective who works most frequently with Sheringham and is remarkably tolerant of his amateur interference. This is strange when, unlike those police detectives who worked alongside Holmes, Poirot and Wimsey, Moresby did not need Sheringham’s help. In fact, often Moresby’s methodical plodding reaches the correct conclusion while Sheringham is still wallowing in his ‘psychological’ misconceptions. Of all the Golden Age fictional detectives, Roger Sheringham is the amateur who most frequently reaches totally the wrong conclusion.

 Many of Sheringham’s fellow detectives felt justified in turning a ‘blind eye’ to a crime when they felt sympathy for the offender, although when murder was involved this usually meant allowing the killer to ‘take his own way out’. Poirot went further in Murder on the Orient Express, (1934) and allowed the perpetrators to go free, but this was in unique circumstances. Sheringham is the only detective who expresses his consistent approval of murder as a reasonable way of disposing of unpleasant or inconvenient people. In Jumping Jenny (1933) the victim is an unlikeable woman who makes life uncomfortable for many of the people around her, but when she is found hanged, the arrogance with which Sheringham feels it is his right to conceal the circumstances surrounding the crime is only equalled by the incompetence with which he sets about the matter.

One of the most interesting and popular Roger Sheringham books is The Poisoned Chocolates Case (1929), which was republished by The British Library in 2016. Sheringham has formed a club of six eminent people, all of whom are interested in criminology, and he suggests that they get together to each propose their solution to a recent murder case. Amongst the brilliant company is Mr Ambrose Chitterwick, ‘a mild little man of no particular appearance who had been even more surprised at being admitted to this company of personages than they had  at finding him amongst them.’ The crime that the club are investigating, with the help of information supplied by the remarkably amenable Inspector Moresby, is the recent murder of Mrs Joan Dixon, who ate poisoned chocolates. As is usual with Sheringham’s investigations, there is little concern about the victim, the main purpose of the exercise being for Sheringham to show off to his eminent friends, and for them to demonstrate their superior powers to the rest of the club. As the theories strike closer to home, Sheringham is dismayed when he sees the clever game he had devised to amuse his fellow club members starting to destroy the club in its infancy. To add insult to injury, it is self-effacing Mr Chitterwick who comes up with the most startling and plausible suggestion. Mr Chitterwick is the polar opposite to Roger Sheringham and it is interesting to note that after The Poisoned Chocolates Case (1929) he appears again in the same year, without Sheringham, in The Piccadilly Murder (1929), and again in Trial and Error (1937.)

 Sheringham does grow and develop during the course of the ten books that feature him and in the last novel, Panic Party (1934), he alone stands resolute and decent when a group of pleasure-cruisers are stranded on a desert island and, believing that there is a murderer amongst them, panic breaks out. If Berkeley had continued to write Sheringham books, it is possible he would have turned into a more likeable detective hero. However, that was not the route that Berkeley intended his career to take and he took a new pseudonym, Francis Iles, and wrote a few darker books, before abandoning novel writing.

Although some of the Roger Sheringham novels have been republished, he has never regained his early popularity. Berkeley claimed that he ‘tried to write what might be described as a psychological detective story,’ but as Curt Evans observes in Sophisticated Murder, (Mystery File blog, March 2011): ‘although Roger (and Cox) love to prate about psychology, the “psychological” solution of the four murders in Silk Stocking is laboured and unconvincing, an indication that, despite all the talk, Roger and his creator are mere dabblers in the psychological arts, often shamelessly winging it when it comes to expository solutions of crimes.’  Evans goes on to compare Berkeley’s The Silk Stocking Murders (1928) with one of Agatha Christie’s finest Poirot novels: ‘With this surfeit of muddled motivations on the part of one mad murderer, the brilliant clarity of Agatha Christie’s solution to a series of killings in The ABC Murders is utterly lacking in The Silk Stocking Murders.’  This insightful comparison may explain why, in the 21st century, Poirot is still a household name and Sheringham largely forgotten by all but fans of the whole Golden Age genre.

Miss Jane Marple (1927-1975) by Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie had a remarkable talent for creating protagonists that were, at that time, unusual and who caught the public’s imagination. Miss Jane Marple is first introduced in The Tuesday Night Club, a short story that was published in December 1927 in The Royal Magazine. This was the first story in the short story collection that was published in 1932 under the title The Thirteen Problems.  The Tuesday Night Club is based on a very similar premise to Berkeley’s The Poisoned Chocolates Case, which was published in 1929, although it is a gentler and more civilised gathering. A group of friends meet regularly and take turns to tell a story with a mystery at its heart and, at first, Miss Marple is regarded as somebody that they should be polite to, in a kind and somewhat patronising way. To their astonishment, she sees through to the core of every story and presents them with the correct solution. Miss Marple is an elderly lady, living in a cottage in the village of St. Mary Mead, and, at first sight, it is easy to see why the Tuesday Night Club guests discounted her. ‘Miss Marple wore a black brocade dress, very much pinched in round the waist. Mechlin lace was arranged in a cascade down the front of the bodice. She had on black lace mittens, and a black lace cap surmounted the piled-up masses of her snowy hair. She was knitting - something white and soft and fleecy ... Her faded blue eyes, benignant and kindly, surveyed her nephew and her nephew's guests with gentle pleasure.’ (The Tuesday Night Club, 1927.)

Miss Marple first appears in a full length novel in 1930. In The Murder at the Vicarage the narrating character is the vicar, who is understandably shocked to discover the murdered body of his unpopular church warden in his study and even more confused when his neighbour, an inquisitive, elderly spinster, shows such a remarkable gift for deduction and a flair for detecting evil. The Vicar has already introduced Miss Marple and her contemporaries to the reader at that most terrifying of events, a vicarage tea party. ‘Miss Marple is a white-haired old lady with a gentle appealing manner - Miss Wetherby is a mixture of vinegar and gush. Of the two Miss Marple is the more dangerous.’  It is in The Murder at the Vicarage that Miss Marple first meets Inspector Slack, a zealous officer that she is going to encounter and thoroughly irritate in other murder cases. ‘Activity was always to Inspector Slack’s taste. To rush off in a car, to silence rudely those people who were anxious to tell him things, to cut short conversations on the plea of urgent necessity. All this was the breath of life to Slack.’ (The Body in the Library, 1942.) Unlike Sir Henry Clithering, the former head of Scotland Yard, who was a fellow guest at the  Tuesday Night Club and soon comes to feel a great respect for Miss Marple, Slack is always infuriated when she turns up: ‘“The Marple woman sticks to this sort of business like chewing gum to the cat.”’ (The Murder at the Vicarage, 1930.) Slack appears in only a few of the Miss Marple novels but he has a far greater presence in the television series featuring Joan Hickson. Christie said that she had based Miss Marple on ‘the sort of old lady who would have been rather like some of my step grandmother's Ealing cronies – old ladies whom I have met in so many villages where I have gone to stay as a girl.’ These old ladies invariably suspected the worst and were usually right, and gathered information by using the same method as Miss Marple and drawing parallels from their own experience, which in Miss Marple’s case were the actions of the inhabitants of St. Mary Mead. ‘Everybody in St. Mary Mead knew Miss Marple; fluffy and dithery in appearance, but inwardly as sharp and as shrewd as they make them.’ (The 4.50 From Paddington, 1957.) As well as enjoying writing stories which started life based on a character who bore a resemblance to her grandmother’s friends, it is believed that Christie was disappointed when the man adapting The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926) for the stage changed Caroline Shepherd into a young girl and she resolved to give old maids a voice.

Christie did not write another Miss Marple novel for twelve years, but in 1942 she wrote The Body in the Library, followed in the same year by The Moving Finger.  Also, around this time she wrote Sleeping Murder which she intended to be Miss Marple's final case, possibly a precaution because she was living and working in London during the Blitz.  Christie then had  Sleeping Murder locked away (along with Curtain, Poirot’s last case) and continued to write using both these characters. In total Christie wrote twelve Miss Marple novels and several collections of short stories.  Sleeping Murder was published in 1976, soon after Christie's death. The novel had not been revised in over thirty years, which resulted in an unfortunate lack of continuity, with Miss Marple appearing more physically active in Sleeping Murder than she had been in the preceding novels, and more importantly, it provided a minor miracle when Colonel Bantry, who was dead in The Mirror Crack'd From Side to Side (1962), was miraculously restored to life in Sleeping Murder.

So what do the Christie books tell us about Miss Marple? From the first we know that she is elderly and firmly rooted in the values of the Victorian age in which she was born. She has spent all of her life in the village and seems to have few regrets about her unmarried state, which is evident when she recalls a romantic infatuation of her youth:  Jane Marple, that pink and white eager young girl... Such a silly girl in so many ways... now who was that very unsuitable young man whose name – oh dear, she couldn't even remember it now! How wise her mother had been to nip that friendship so firmly in the bud. She had come across him years later and really he was quite dreadful! At the time she had cried herself to sleep for at least a week!’ (At Bertram's Hotel, 1965.) Miss Marple is very much part of the middle class; she owns her cottage, which is old-fashioned but comfortable  and it was furnished with good old furniture that belonged to it.’ (The Tuesday Night Club, 1926.) Also she has enough money to employ a maid, although this is usually a young girl who Miss Marple trains in her duties. These maids often move on to other employment and usually marry, which sometimes comes in useful when Miss Marple needs somewhere to stay while investigating crimes outside St. Mary Mead. Although Miss Marple has to rely on her nephew, the writer Raymond West, for luxuries, like a holiday in the Caribbean or a live-in companion when she has been ill, she has the confidence of a person who has never known financial hardship or had to work for her living. This is made very clear when she receives an unexpected inheritance and a solicitor recommends her to consult her bank manager about putting it away for ‘a rainy day’: ‘“The only thing I shall want for a rainy day will be my umbrella,” said Miss Marple... “I'm going to spend it you know. I'm going to have some fun with it.”’(Nemesis, 1971).

Although it is totally credible that Miss Marple should have plenty of time to take an interest in village matters and the in-built shrewdness to get to the truth of major and minor crimes, it seems possible that Christie felt that there were some difficulties in justifying the number of times a fragile elderly gentlewoman could reasonably be involved with murder. Miss Marple acknowledges this in Nemesis (1971): ‘It has just happened that I have found myself in the vicinity of murder rather more often than would seem normal.’ However, Christie does attempt to justify this by giving Miss Marple an instinct for evil, so that she becomes identified with Nemesis, the seeker out of ill-doers, and because of this she is often called upon by people who need her help. Indeed, by the end of her investigative career, Miss Marple seems to have moved a long way from the prying village spinster of her earlier cases and identifies herself with the mythical dispenser of justice when she claims, ‘Nemesis is long delayed sometimes, but it comes in the end.’ Nemesis (1971).

There is no doubt that Miss Marple’s fame lives on: she has been portrayed in films by an array of famous names, including Margaret Rutherford, Angela Lansbury, Gracie Fields and Helen Hayes. Christie was a friend of Margaret Rutherford but she did not like her comedic, rumbustious portrayal of Miss Marple. Christie would have been pleased to know that from 1984-1992 the BBC televised all of the full length Miss Marple novels with Joan Hickson in the starring role. In the 1930s, Christie had written to Joan Hickson saying: ‘I hope one day you will play my dear Miss Marple’. Many viewers believe that Hickson has given the best portrayal of Miss Marple and the screenplays were excellent adaptions of the original novels, an opinion with which I agree. This has not prevented ITV from broadcasting Agatha Christie’s Marple, which starred Geraldine McEwan (2004-2008 ) and Julia McKenzie (2009-2013). Many of these episodes rewrote Miss Marple’s early life, stating that she had had an affair with a married officer who died in the First World War, and in another episode that she had driven an ambulance in the War. As well as altering the subtler points of her backstory and character and changing the plots which rendered many of the original Marple stories practically unrecognisable, Agatha Christie’s Marple inserted Miss Marple into several Christie stories that had not featured her. Miss Marple is definitely not forgotten but it is debatable whether Christie would recognise her creation, and this may have resulted in the Miss Marple of Agatha Christie’s novels being less well remembered than she deserves.

 Miss Maud Silver (1928-1962) by Patricia Wentworth

Ten years after women were given the vote was clearly an excellent time for elderly spinsters to start their careers as detectives, armed with common-sense, Victorian values and knitting needles. In 1928 Patricia Wentworth published Grey Mask, the first of her novels to feature Miss Maud Silver, an elderly governess turned private investigator. It has often been assumed that Wentworth took her inspiration from Christie’s Miss Marple, however Christie had only published one Miss Marple story when Wentworth published Grey Mask, so it is hard to decide which author had the inspiration first, or whether it was a case of parallel development.

It is easy to note the similarities between Miss Marple and Miss Silver: both are elderly spinsters, fond of knitting and firm upholders of morality, although both ladies can be indulgent and kind to young people, especially those in trouble. Also both Miss Marple and Miss Silver are shrewd observers of human nature while appearing to be so harmless that nobody suspects how intelligent they are. However, the differences between the two gentlewomen are more significant. Miss Silver is a businesswoman who started life as a governess and, through good fortune and her own talent for detection, has now become a Private Investigator, with her own flat in London and a housekeeper to look after her needs. Although she is generous, especially to her nieces, she maintains a modest lifestyle and never ceases to be grateful to the Providence that allowed has provided her with ‘A comfortable and tasteful room in a comfortable and tasteful flat. During the years when she had worked as a governess for the meagre salary which was then all that a governess could command she had never had any grounds for hoping that such comfort would be hers. If she had remained a governess, there would have been no plush curtains, no Brussels carpet, no steel engravings, no easy chairs upholstered in blue and green tapestry...’ (Miss Silver Intervenes, 1944.)

Miss Silver has many good qualities but her taste in clothes is old-fashioned and sometimes unbecoming. She tends to wear high necked dresses in dull shades such as snuff and sage and, for a while, wore a dress made from an unfortunate material that featured dots and dashes, not unlike Morse Code. Her outdoor clothes vary little, although she does re-trim her hats and has a different style of hat in winter and summer. ‘She wore a serviceable black cloth coat which had only done two winters, and a little yellow fur tippet of uncertain ancestry. Her hat, which had been new in the autumn, was of the kind which looks the same for about ten years and then falls to pieces. It was made of black felt with a purple velvet starfish in front and a niggle of black and purple ribbon running all round the crown.’ (Spotlight, 1949.) The fur tippet appears so frequently in Miss Silver's adventures that it takes on a character of its own and, for one suspect, is a source of profound irritation: ‘she stigmatised the tippet as a mangy cat and resented its contact with her sofa. That a woman who wore a thing like that should thrust herself into her house and cross-examine her about a private conversation was the ultimate limit.’ (Miss Silver Comes to Stay, 1951.)

 Because of her status as a Private Investigator, there is no difficulty in explaining why Miss Silver is involved in so many murder investigations. Although she sometimes annoys the police officers that she works alongside by overthrowing their neatly constructed cases, on the whole she is on excellent terms with them and her skill at discovering the truth is wholeheartedly respected. One of her former pupils is Randal March, the Chief Constable of Ledshire, the fictional county where many of Miss Silver's investigations occur, and at Scotland Yard she has the respect and co-operation of Detective Superintendent Ernest Lamb and Detective Sergeant (later Detective Inspector) Frank Abbott. Lamb and Abbott had both appeared in Wentworth’s books before Miss Silver became her primary detective; both of them are intelligent, honest detectives, although they have very different backgrounds.

Lamb is a big built, solid, working-class man whose personal life is centred around his wife and adored daughters; Abbott has an upper-class background and is the product of public school and university, a tall, slender, young man with patrician features and ice blue eyes. Abbott's relationship with Miss Silver develops over the years and soon she treats him like a favourite nephew. Abbott often displays an irreverent sense of humour, and behind Miss Silver’s back sometimes refers to her as Maudie the Mascot, because he claims that when she enters a case the police always come out of it well; however, his more usual and far more respectful mode of address is Revered Preceptress.

Despite her old-fashioned appearance, the fact that she is seldom seen without her knitting and her devotion to the works of Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Miss Silver is a shrewd, professional detective who takes cases to earn a fee, although she always warns prospective clients that she will not accept employment to prove specific person’s innocence but to discover the truth. As the Miss Silver novels always have a central romance and one of the lovers is usually suspected of committing the murder, it is fortunate that the young man or woman is always proved to be innocent. However, this is simplifying the variety of the romantic threads that run through the Miss Silver novels, as sometimes the initial love interest proves to be less heroic than they at first appear. Miss Silver makes good use of her experience as a governess and can still quell impertinence with a glance, as when an overbearing shop manager dares to question her word:

‘Miss Silver turned upon him the look before which the hardiest of her pupils had been wont to quail. It was a look that had daunted the evil-doer on many an occasion. Since then Chief Inspector Lamb himself had been halted by it and brought to unwilling apology. It went straight through the manager's self-esteem and stripped him to his bare bones...

“I beg your pardon,” said Miss Maud Silver.

The manager found himself apologising. She had spoken quite quietly and he knew now that she was neither an eccentric duchess nor any lesser member of the aristocracy. But the authority in that quiet tone had him rattled. He paused in his not very well chosen phrases and discovered that he was being addressed. He had the quite unwarranted feeling that he was being addressed from a platform. He had the unusual feeling of being
something rather lowly in the scale of creation.Miss Silver treated this frame of mind with firmness. “You would, perhaps, care for me to furnish you with proofs of my credibility as a witness. This is my business card.”’
(Spotlight, 1949.)

Although Miss Silver does not go out of her way to court danger, she will place herself at risk in order to save an innocent person from arrest, even if this means ignoring the advice of the police: 'Detective Inspector Abbott stood in the dark and listened. He would not have admitted it to anyone else – he barely admitted it to himself – but he was just about as nervous as a cat on hot bricks... He ought never to have consented to it. That had been his original standpoint, and he ought to have stuck to it. And so what? If he could stick to a plan, why, so could she. And not only could, but would. He had known his Miss Silver for a good many years now, and he was perfectly well aware that when she had made up her mind to a course of action then she would pursue it. All that he could do was to remonstrate, which he had done this afternoon, and remonstrance having failed, take what precautions he could to ensure her safety.' (The Watersplash, 1954.)

There was an eight year gap between Grey Mask and the second Miss Silver book, The Case is Closed (1937). This is a particularly interesting story as Miss Silver investigates the cold case of a man who has already been imprisoned for the murder of his uncle, which leaves her without her usual sources of police co-operation. After The Case is Closed, the Miss Silver novels appeared regularly, including several set in the Second World War with all its inconveniences and dangers, ranging from the blackout and rationing to the machinations of enemy agents. In total there were thirty-two Miss Silver novels, which ended with Patricia Wentworth’s death in 1961.

The Miss Silver mysteries have never made it to film or television, so her fame is confined to those who enjoy cosy crime stories set in the past. However, she is still read and most of the Miss Silver books are available on Kindle and several are also available as paperbacks. 

Carol Westron is a successful short story writer and a Creative Writing teacher.  She is the moderator for the cosy/historical crime panel, The Deadly Dames.  Her crime novels are set both in contemporary and Victorian times.  The Terminal Velocity of Cats the first in her Scene of Crimes novels, was published July 2013. Carol recently gave an interview to Mystery People. To read the interview click on the link below.
To read a review of Carol latest book This Game of Ghosts click on the title. 


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