Chinese Shawl Paperback – Nov 1 1989
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. . . some of the best examples of the British country-house murder mystery―Alfred Hitchcock magazine
You can't go wrong with Miss Maud Silver―Observer
Patricia Wentworth has created a great detective in Miss Silver, the little old lady who nobody notices, but who in turn notices everything―Paula Gosling
Miss Wentworth's plot is ingenious, her characterization acute, her solution satisfying―The Scotsman
Miss Wentworth is a first rate story-teller―Daily Telegraph
Miss Silver is marvellous―Daily Mail
Miss Silver has her place in detective fiction as surely as Lord Peter Wimsey or Hercule Poirot―Manchester Evening News
A particular favourite―Andrew Taylor
About the Author
Patricia Wentworth was born in India and after writing several romances turned her hand to crime. She wrote dozens of bestselling mysteries and was recognised as one of the mistresses of classic crime. She died in the late Sixties.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Patricia Wentworth, like several other female British crime writers of her generation, contributed to the so-called "War Effort" in the early 1940s by increasing her production of the sort of murder mysteries that provided cosy, escapist relaxation. This one is a successful blend of her usual ingredients: romance, relationships, family dynamics crossing several generations, a murder or two, Miss Maud Silver as sleuth, and lots of dialogue.
Tanis invites Laura to stay at the Priory, the Fane family estate, which Laura has inherited but is on a long term lease to Agnes Fane, a lease which is about to run its course. It seems that Laura's father had once been engaged to Agnes, who was his cousin, but broke it off when he met Laura's mother. Hence, the long familial estrangement between the two families began. Now, it seems, Agnes Fane wishes to buy the Priory and bequeath it to Tanis, but Laura is not inclined to do so.
When Laura arrives at the Priory, she is among any number of guests, including, Casey. Unfortunately, Aunt Agnes is under the mistaken belief that Tanis and Casey are engaged, and views Laura as an interloper in the path of true love, just as Laura's mother once was. So, when Tanis is murdered, suspects and motivations abound. As luck would have it, Miss Maud Silver, a retired governess turned private enquiry agent, is also a house guest at the Priory, there on another matter. So, she is Johnny on the spot to assist the police.
This is an enjoyable English country house mystery that takes place in wartime Britain. The house is filled with interesting, quirky characters, anyone of whom could have a motive for murder. The plot is well-crafted and the story is well-written and fully developed. Miss Silver is an interesting character, an astute observer able to discern the dark side of human nature where it lurks. Those readers who enjoy English country house mysteries will find this one quite worthy of their time.
As in a later case, _Through the Wall_, at least two potential murder victims bear a strong enough likeness that when one is killed at night while wearing some of the other's clothing, there's some question as to which was the intended victim. Another similarity is that one is the (apparently) morally worthy heiress, the other a femme fatale, although in a much more drastic contrast than in the later book, where the femme fatale is a (somewhat) more sympathetic character. Motive won't help sort this one out - anybody who didn't have a motive to kill Tanis Lyle did have a motive to kill Laura Fane, and vice versa.
Laura Fane, as the sole surviving member of the senior branch of the family, holds title to the family estate - the Priory - but the next branch of the family has leased it for many years, since they had the money to keep it up, so cousin Agnes has lived there all her life. Jilted by Laura's father, then partly paralyzed by a riding accident, she's devoted herself to 3 things: nursing her grudge against Laura's long-dead parents, maintaining the Priory, and raising her orphaned young cousin Tanis Lyle. Agnes wants to buy the Priory outright, and to persuade Tanis (via her control of the pursestrings) to settle down and raise her son (currently parked with her ex's family), but Tanis prefers proving in wartime London that the enemy isn't the only destroyer of good men - or relationships.
Laura, on the other hand, while bearing a physical likeness to Tanis, is leavened with the milk of human kindness rather than a taste for cat-and-mouse games with men - or their partners' jealousy. But when she and one of Tanis' recent discards - a decent sort with a Distinguished Flying Cross, recovering from injuries that grounded him with temporarily messed-up depth perception - begin falling in love, Tanis arranges matters so that "the aunts" will be sure to raise Cain, seeing Laura as "stealing" Tanis' man, just as Laura's father jilted Agnes for another woman. When one of the girls is shot in the middle of the night, which was the intended victim?
Since the Priory is in Ledshire, Randall Marsh - superintendent and Miss Silver's favourite former pupil - is in charge of the official investigation. (He wryly comments that he's the only member of the family who's *not* in the Army - and he's the only male in his generation.)