Monday, 22 August 2016

Book of 1954: The Benevent Treasure by Patricia Wentworth

 
published 1954



 
Benevent Treasure 2
 


[From the Prologue: Candida is trapped on a cliff face]


The ledge was about six inches wide. Candida stood on it with her toes stubbed against the rock. Her left hand was clenched on a small projecting knob about level with the top of her head. With the other she was feeling carefully and methodically for something which she could catch hold of on her right. …

Sound carries over water, and the way the cliff curved favoured Candida’s cry. Stephen heard it and looking shoreward he saw her dark against the rock in her schoolgirl serge. It was not yet dusk but the air had begun to thicken. He rowed in as far as he dared… If she had a reasonable foot and hand hold, he could land in the cove, fetch help, and get at her from the top of the cliff.


 
Benevent Treasure


[Chapter 17: A musical soiree at the Deanery]

[Miss Olivia] regarded her with some attention. There was nothing particular about her looks. She was not very tall, and she had nothing very special in the way of features – brown curls, blue eyes, and rather a round-shaped face. Her dress was one of those modern high-necked affairs, the top in blue and black brocade coming down over the hips and worn with a tight black satin skirt. Frowning, Miss Olivia accorded it a certain distinction.

 
commentary: This is my contribution for Rich Westwood’s Crime of the Century meme at Past Offences: the year for this month is 1954. (It seems pretty definite The Benevent Treasure was first published in that year, though a few sources give a different year – my Kindle edition clearly says 1956. But I am deciding on 1954…)

This was I’m sorry to say rather a dud. The last two Miss Silver books I read – The Clock Strikes Midnight and Miss Silver Intervenes were from ten years earlier (one was my 1944 book for last month’s meme) and were both highly enjoyable. They were sparky, with interesting characters and good dialogue and, best of all, good solid crimes and investigations – with possibilities and suspects and a lot of questions to be asked.

This one has a good start with the scene above of a schoolgirl trapped on a cliff, rescued by a young man (despite this sentence that I didn’t understand: ‘I was out watching birds and taking photographs, which is why I had a rope in the boat.’). 

Time passes, and we meet Candida again, by now 21 and off to live with her two great aunts. There is a sinister house, questions of inheritance, a lot of dubious family history. But for me it never gelled – partly because there was never much doubt who was in the wrong. Candida was in jeopardy, and there were various goings on at night, and everybody was either suspicious or sinister. But the story didn’t really go anywhere, it didn’t hold my attention. It was much more of a romantic thriller with gothic overtones – I prefer Miss Silver to do some solid sleuthing.

And there seems some evidence Wentworth was phoning it in – there are two peripheral characters both called Richard: annoying (I thought it was a clue, there was a connection) and careless. And usually there are excellent clothes descriptions but these were rather vague, and everyone, not just the young woman above, kept turning up in brocade - including ‘mauve and blue brocade’ which somehow sounds unlikely, and two brocade chairs.

Disappointing.

However there was one great line, which made reading the book worthwhile:
‘Her name is Maud Silver. Louisa says she has solved many difficult cases besides being an extremely expert knitter.’
That’s the tagline they should have across the covers of these books.

As a book of 1954 there wasn’t much to offer - except for the charming fact that it became clear that the height of luxury and sophistication would be to have an electric bar heater or a gasfire in your bedroom or office, and you would be grateful for and impressed by such a thing – such items are mentioned three times. Luxury. Bless. At least central heating in the UK has come on a lot since then.

Girl on a cliff-face from an adventure story in an annual of the era.

Brocade picture from Kristine’s photostream.





















14 comments:

  1. I like that tag line for Miss Silver, too, Moira! It's fantastic. I'm sorry to hear that this one was such a disappointment, and I know just what you mean about the sort of novel it is. If it's a whodunit sort of novel, then you want real sleuthing, clues, and so on. Well, at least you've ticked off your read for 1954...

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    1. Yes indeed, and it hasn't put me off Wentworth: I'm sure there are plenty more proper crime stories featuring expert knitting...

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    2. Miss Marple comes to mind.

      I knit, but I'm still waiting for someone to ask me to solve a crime. The closest I've ever come is a couple of JAG investigations I was assigned as a lieutenant.

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    3. I love the way you drop your memories in.
      I don't think Miss Marple is as serious a knitter as Miss Silver, I think MIss M does it to look busy and assuage fears, but Miss S is really interested in whatever it is she is making for Ethel's eldest.

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  2. ZZZZZZ....maybe one for when I'm suffering insomnia?

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    1. You MIGHT find a different Wentworth book OK - but really not this one for you...

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  3. This is one of the few I have. (I think I have some on the Kindle but I have been avoiding those.) I have a couple of other ones that you have featured and liked better (I think). Do you think there is a period in her writing that is better? or it is just hit and miss?

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    1. I just had a quick look down the list of her works and I think it's random! I think she sometimes had an idea for a proper mystery puzzle, and sometimes for a romantic thriller. They are quite distinct...

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  4. Moira, a veritable treasure of free Wentworth ebooks, a generous offer from a publisher, awaits me in my inbox. Time I picked one and read it. I'm getting a sense of déjà vu here!

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    1. Oh well if they're there you definitely should try one Prashant! They're not the thrillers you often read, but I think you would enjoy the clues and the settings.

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  5. I'm currently reading my way through the not-Miss-Silver Wentworths and there are plenty of good clothes going on, but also some rather fun interior decoration in a number of them -- I like it when she gets her mind on the details. In one heroine's room everything is pink: "She knew just what type of woman has a rose-coloured carpet..." (Touch & Go). They're all a bit melodramatic, but quick fun.

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    1. Oh that sounds fun - I've never ventured into non-Miss-Silver territory, but they're all available now aren't they? Yes, that's just what I need, another 25 books I could read!

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  6. Yes, you could have an electric bar heater /as long as you didn't sit too near it/ - or even turn it on very often!

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    1. Only for emergencies. They were hideous and probably dangerous, but there was something strangely comforting about the instant heat and the bright orange. Or is that only me?

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