Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Lonesome Road by Patricia Wentworth

Miss Silver is at her best as she pits her wits against a potential murderer

The latest Hodder paperback edition of Lonesome Road
The latest Hodder paperback
edition of Lonesome Road
The reader learns more about the background and character of the mysterious Miss Silver in this third novel by Patricia Wentworth to feature the elderly lady detective.

In Lonesome Road, published in 1939, heiress Rachel Treherne is convinced her life is in danger and goes to see Miss Silver at her office in London, after she remembers a friend mentioning the name of the private investigator.

Miss Silver is sitting at a walnut writing desk in a room that looks more like a Victorian parlour than an office. Rachel sees she is a little woman in a snuff-coloured dress with ‘what appeared to be a great deal of mousy-grey hair done up in a tight bun at the back and arranged in front in one of those extensive curled fringes associated with the late Queen Alexandra, the whole severely controlled by a net.’

She begins to have second thoughts about confiding in Miss Silver, but the elderly lady encourages her to say what she is worried about and so Rachel tells her that she thinks someone is trying to kill her.

Rachel explains that her father left her an immense fortune that she has to administer as a trustee. She has used some of the money to set up retirement homes for elderly people who are not very well off. The rest of the capital is tied up. She can leave it to her relatives in her will, but is unable to give much of it away now.

She has received an anonymous letter telling her she has ‘had the money long enough and it is someone else’s turn now’. This has been followed by two more letters, the third saying simply, ‘Get ready to die.’

Rachel tells Miss Silver she has had a narrow escape from falling down the stairs. Then her curtains were discovered on fire in her bedroom and someone tampered with her chocolates to try to poison her.

Patricia Wentworth wrote
32 Miss Silver mysteries
Several members of her family live with her in her house and she tells Miss Silver she loves them all and can’t bear to suspect any of them.

She arranges for Miss Silver to come and stay with her. Miss Silver says she is to tell her family that her new guest is a retired governess, which is, in fact, perfectly true.

It is the first time any clue about the mysterious old lady’s background has been given to the reader by the author.

Miss Silver also quotes the poet Tennyson twice during the meeting with Rachel and says she admires the great poet and frequently quotes him to her clients.

But before Miss Silver even arrives at Rachel’s family home, the heiress has had another brush with death, having fallen over the side of a cliff. She later says she felt sure she was pushed. She manages to cling to a bush growing out of the side of the cliff and is rescued by a friend who has come to look for her.

Going to stay in Rachel’s house in the guise of an impoverished retired governess gives Miss Silver the chance to observe Rachel’s family. She points out later that they talk to each other as though she isn’t there because they feel she is unimportant.

She quickly realises that Rachel’s older sister, Mabel, considers herself to be an invalid and wants Rachel to back her grown-up children financially in their various ventures.

There is one cousin who wants Rachel to spend her money on charitable projects she is interested in, while another cousin is clearly short of money and very anxious. A third cousin, who is an artist, wants Rachel to marry him.

Meanwhile, the maid, Louisa, who is devoted to her mistress, goes to desperate lengths to make Rachel aware of the fact she is in danger from her whole family.

Thank goodness for Miss Silver, who sees and hears everything while she sits in the background knitting.

Lonesome Road is well worth reading, if you like novels of suspense, as it maintains the mystery well and doesn’t let the reader relax until the final page. 

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