(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

The more than seventy novels of Patricia Wentworth, more than half of which feature Miss Silver, Inspector Lamb, or both, have been variously judged anodyne, dependable, and engaging—solid praise for such an extensive canon. Often compared to Jane Marple, Wentworth’s heroine, Miss Silver, is enriched with much detail, making her one of the most successfully and clearly drawn private detectives in the genre. She inevitably brings a happy solution to varied maidens-in-distress who have been wrongly accused of crime and stripped of their good names and reputations. Wentworth’s style, though in no way poetic or memorable, is sufficient to tell the story, and is, at times, mildly witty. Her plots play fair with the reader, even though they are at times highly unrealistic. They are successful, however, because they create considerable suspense by placing ordinary, decent people from comfortable English settings into extreme danger, a plot device that Wentworth helped to initiate. Like other prolific mystery writers, notably Agatha Christie, Wentworth wrote novels that are uneven in quality, with the least successful written at the end of her career. Yet her charming, rational heroine, Miss Silver, and her skill in creating suspense ensure Wentworth’s lasting popularity as a writer of detective fiction.