This light and easy mystery takes place in 1942 England... like all Ms Wentworth's WWII era novels, the war is omnipresent, but the plot is about ordinary human life. Her characterization is deft and sure... and surely Miss Maud Silver is one of the great detective characters of the Golden Age of the English mystery. I always enjoy them immensely.
I was so impressed by the conclusion to this book that I woke my husband up, made him listen to me read the passage where the murderer is discovered, and then expounded upon it for 15 minutes before letting him drift back of to sleep. So disturbing this killer was... so cleverly written, so uniquely drawn, and yet perfectly imaginable. This was undoubtedly the cruelest murderer I have read about, and could only compare it to the villain in Agatha Christies "Nemisis".
Its easy to draw comparisons between the two- Miss Marple is also a "spinster" elderly sleuth, trusted by her neighbors and always knitting to allow herself to work through cases. Like Miss Marple, Miss Silver is a trusted confidante and manages to subtly insinuate herself into the most suspicious of households, and gain their trust. However, where as Miss Marple draws upon her experiences in small towns and their people and uses analogies from them to solve her cases (often relating the stories in charming detail), Miss Silver relies solely upon clues and her years of studying personalities when she worked as a governess. She is sharp eyed and intelligent, and her penchant for Victorianism is hilarious. She adores "young people" and is easily friended by them.
This particular book is about a wealthy gentleman who discovers someone in his household and family has wronged him, and decides to punish them privately-instead of through the police- by embarrassing them in a family gathering, and then taking his revenge upon them behind closed doors later that New Year's evening. Instead, he is murdered. Everyone there believes they have something to hide, and are reluctant to disclose information to the police. When the nephew of the uncle is sure he is going to be blamed as he stands to inherit, he calls on Miss Silver to come into the home and find out the truth before it is ferreted out in public by the police. As usual, there is a light romance here, which doesn't deter from the plot at all, but rather accentuates it in a pleasant manor.
There is some light comedy here- after allowing every character to wince and complain about the outlandish Victorian fabrics and rugs in the home, Miss Silver remarks to herself about how lovely it is. Shes perfectly at home in the Victorian relic, with her high neck blouses, "last seasons" heavy brocade dresses, and scratchy wool tights.
Patricia Wentworth's Miss Silver mysteries are the definition of cozy. She knits and sleuths her way through to a just conclusion and usually unites the lovers in the end. If you like Miss Marple, you'll love Miss Silver.
From the back of the book:
New Year's Eve at the Paradine mansion and the whole family is there-James, the patriarch; Grace, his overbearing sister; Frank, the stolid stepson and his easily excited wife; Mark, the brooding nephew; Dicky, the charmer; Brenda, the bitter step-daughter; Lydia, young and oh so fashionable; Albert, the disliked distant cousin; Phyllida, the lovely niece, and her estranged husband.
James knows one of them has stolen his company's valuable blueprints and plans to thoroughly humiliate the thief. But by midnight James Paradine will be dead. Now the implacable, capable Miss Silver will need all her sleuthing skills to track down the murderer in their midst.
Old fashioned puzzle story with some very shrewd character observation. Miss Silver comes through as usual. I am not one who tries to solve the mystery ahead of the characters, but it seemed to me that there was only one candidate. However in this book, it's the why, not the who, that matters most. One for the classic mystery buff who enjoys stories with lots of character and ambience, little violence and absolutely no gore.
Elderly patriarch James Paradine is murdered on New Year's Eve after confronting a relative and demanding a confession, and the redoubtable Miss Maud Silver is charged with identifying a killer among several suspects.
This was a good read but a tad too detailed (making it boring in spots) with not enough about the actual characters involved.