Patricia Wentworth – Danger Point

This is one of Patricia Wentworth’s Miss Silver novels, of which I am very fond. Miss Silver herself is a character whose solid morals and Edwardian values stand her in good stead for the detection of crime. A little like Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, Miss Silver is an unlikely detective, being a middle-aged former governess with a genius for getting on with people or encouraging them to confide in her. I must say that I find her involvement in crime a little more plausible than Miss Marple’s, in that she’s known to be a private enquiry agent, and is called in to a case when her clients (generally) are facing possible arrest. There are exceptions to this, usually where Miss Silver is on holiday, and falls into investigating, but there aren’t so many of these as you might expect.

Hodder & Stoughton have reissued most of these books recently, and I’ve been buying and reading them since 2007. Danger Point, however, is not one of the reissued novels and so I bought this second-hand from a dealer in Guernsey (incidentally the parcel came festooned with Guernsey stamps, some dating back to 1981!).

It tells the story of Lisle Jerningham (whose name is familiar to me, since she’s mentioned several times in a number of the other books), and is one of the earlier Miss Silver books (set in 1939). Miss Silver first encounters Lisle on a train: the younger woman has been utterly shocked and distressed by a spiteful comment which seems to suggest that her recent near-drowning may not have been an accident, and may have been engineered by her husband, Dale. So far, so Lonesome Road. This book is different, in that Miss Silver is not called in by Lisle (or anyone else), and enters the case through her own curiosity. As a result, she adds very little to the unravelling of the case, except to give a couple of pieces of advice to Lisle, which are ignored, and help Inspector Randal March do the little detection involved.

As a result, it’s more of a character study than a detective novel, and the four main characters are very sharply drawn: Lisle, an heiress, a scrupulous, gentle, kind young woman; Dale, her husband, who is obsessed with his home, Tanfield; his cousin Rafe, mocking and witty, but kind and intelligent; and their cousin Alicia, who is pretty, jealous of Lisle, and in love with Dale. The plot certainly wouldn’t win any awards for originality or surprise (particularly since I’ve read The Chinese Shawl), since it’s fairly obvious from the beginning who the villain of the piece is, but it’s an interesting read nonetheless. The setting is well-described, and its picture of an England on the brink of war is delicately evoked.

I’m still intrigued about mention of the poisoned caterpillars, though…

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