on 4 May 2005
Maud Silver is in this case from the beginning, rather than coming aboard after consultation with a client. Frank Abbott, one of her Scotland Yard admirers, has just returned from a holiday in Ledshire - and thanks to his legion of cousins scattered about the country, he *never* stays in a hotel. In the little town of Tilling Green, he stayed with a *very* distant widowed cousin, Joyce Rodney. Joyce's son David is a 'delicate' little boy, so rather than taking a regular job, she signed on as an underpaid live-in help to the Wayne sisters. Irene Wayne, the surviving sister, is a twittery spinster; it's never explained how Miss Renie survived the visit of a Man.
The ever-cynical Frank, whose formidable defences include an irreverent sense of humor, is worried about Joyce; she's been receiving anonymous letters - poison-pen letters. "She is one of those pleasant girls - nice to look at without being a beauty, intelligent without being a brain. In fact there are no extremes - nothing to rouse up the sort of enmity which the letters suggest."
His professional description of Tilling Green for 'Maudie' focuses on the Manor. Colonel Roger Repton inherited the land but not the money. His great folly was in marrying the decorative Scilla - it's generally thought that she didn't realize that his ward Valentine, not Roger himself, has the money, which he'll lose when Valentine marries. Joyce says that Valentine's heart isn't in marrying Gilbert Earle; she loved the vicar's nephew, but Jason went off into the blue without a word. Repton's spinster sister runs the Manor, since Scilla won't lift a finger.
Frank's armor cracks, however, when news of an inquest at Tilling Green hits the papers; he'd met Doris Pell in the Wayne house, and rather liked the young dressmaker. The inquest brings in a verdict of suicide after receiving a poison pen letter, although the allegations of immorality appear to have been false (and were too vague for an all-is-discovered suicide anyhow). Maud takes the case, worming her way into the Wayne household as a paying guest so as not to telegraph her true profession to her quarry. (Abbott doesn't receive further play in this story, save at its conclusion; since it's a Ledshire case, Maud's favorite former pupil, Chief Constable Randall March, is involved.)
Superficially, this case has several similarities with THE WATERSPLASH, but they fall into perspective on closer examination. The first death in each case involves someone drowned in very shallow water - but the 2nd and 3rd deaths in THE WATERSPLASH are also drownings, while those in this book are due to poison, and here the possibility of suicide in each death is taken more seriously than in THE WATERSPLASH. In both stories, the male love interest left town with no explanation a few years ago, only to return abruptly just lately without public explanation but privately with sterling reasons (but in THE WATERSPLASH the girl was too young to be taken seriously, whereas here they'd had an understanding since childhood). However, in THE WATERSPLASH, the male love interest is a suspect, while here neither is. Finally, in both cases, Maud Silver has a climactic confrontation with the murderer, who tries to kill her, but with a somewhat different spin in each case.
Despite the star-crossed lovers who appear in most Silver mysteries, whose problems are usually resolved by Maud Silver's hard work, Wentworth actually represents a rather fuller range of relationships than she may be given credit for. Maud's niece Gladys, of course, is a perennial trial to the family, who sympathize greatly with her long-suffering husband but hope devoutly that he won't dump her back on *them*. Roger Repton's disastrous marriage has a superficial relationship to that of the Harrisons in THE GAZEBO, but Repton's personality is *much* more forceful than Jack Harrison's - he's all for throwing Scilla out of the house on the spot when he finds out about her adultery. At the other end of the social scale, the father of the Stokes family is a househusband; he uses his health as a socially respectable excuse for staying home and indulging his excellent cooking skills for his large, cheerful family. The mysterious Mr. Barton - the woman-hating recluse with 7 cats - has a *very* unusual background when you get to know him.
Published 13 years after Christie's THE MOVING FINGER, Marple's only similar case, this is a stronger book - Wentworth's characterization is far better than that of most of her more celebrated contemporaries. However, it fails to engage the reader as much as usual, since no one party is ever the focus of Maud's interest. Joyce Rodney and her son are under-utilized. Neither Valentine nor Jason is ever threatened with arrest.
All in all, enjoyable and worth reading, but not memorable.