My first Patricia Wentworth Book.
“The Case Is Closed”, written in 1937, is the first Patricia Wentworth book that I’ve read. I picked it up because it was chosen for a It’s Saturday, Forget The Pandemic Buddy Read at BookLikes and was very pleased at how much fun it turned out to be.
For a book written eighty-three years ago, it has a very modern feel. The plot was gnarly enough to be interesting. The task is to prove the innocence of a man already convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. His guilt seems irrefutable, although he denies the crime. Then, a chance meeting on a train leads a young woman to believe that the man has been framed.
The main character Hilary made the book for me. She’s easy to like, hard to deter, has the courage (or lack of sense of threat) to take risks and has a lively self-deprecating sense of humour. Her one weakness, it seemed to me, was her taste in men. Her amore, Henry, is an ass. It would be nice to think that his kind has become extinct but I doubt it. What turned me off most was that his starting point was disbelief. It so narcissistic that you want to send him for counselling or just slap him.
It’s clear that this is an early novel from Wentworth as some of the exposition creaked and some of the repetition of data suggested that Wentworth assumed her reader’s had very poor memories. She also makes a mess of some of the legal aspects of the book, having things happen at an inquest which could only have happened at a trial where they would have been subject to challenge.
I was surprised to find that the book contained some very well-written action scenes in which our heroine is placed in peril, although I’ve been told that Wentworth often does this to her heroines.
Although this is tagged as a Miss Silver book, Miss Silver seemed to be a deus ex machina who coughs a lot and likes to knit in public who barely makes an appearance. The book is carried by young Hilary’s irrepressible spirit.
I’ll be back for more Wentworth and more Miss Silver. “Miss Silver Comes To Stay” is already in my TBR pile.
If you’d like a feel for the experience of reading “The Case Is Closed”, take a look below at the posts I made as part of the Buddy Read.
Buddy Read Notes
3%. Just grabbed a chapter before breakfast…
…and what a strong, contemporary start – being on the wrong train and then a chance meeting with a strange old woman. It’s very cinematic.
I like the language. The main character is someone who gets angry but can’t stay angry. I know how that feels and I loved this description which makes anger feel like your life’s blood, draining away when anger is replaced by grief:
It was just as if someone had suddenly jabbed a knife into her. It hurt just like that. One moment there she was, quite comfortably angry with Henry, and the next all stabbed and defenceless, with the anger.running away and a horrid cold sinking feeling inside her.
I also liked the first visual impression of the strange old lady:
She had on a black felt hat and a grey coat with a black fur collar—the neat inconspicuous clothes of a respectable woman who has stopped bothering about her appearance but is tidy from habit and training.
I’m at an age now when I know exactly how that feels.
23%. -intriguing but a little clumsy
I’ve just read through the evidence presented against Geoffrey Grey and it leaves me a little ambivalent about the book.
On the pro side (bearing in mind that this was written in 1937) the details are presented with a minimum of repetition, there is some characterisation from the way the evidence is presented, theories are explored and discounted and one is left with the view that the case against Geoffrey Grey was substantial and that the alibis of the other possible suspects are strong.
On the con side, this is pretty much a complete infodump. It also seems to me unlikely that an inquest, which is held to establish the cause of death and which has no brief in the event of a killing to attempt to decide who carried out the killing, would take the evidence described or reach the conclusions described. Equally, a trial would not have allowed many of the statements to be made or to go unchallenged and would have given the defendant time to prepare and respond. I know this is being done to heighten the drama but my inner pedant is tutting and calling foul.
That said, I now really want to know how this result can be overturned.
34%.- just met Mercer…
…what a finely judged menace he projects. How quickly and deftly Wentworth made me despise him.
i like Hilary. I know I’m supposed to like her but it’s not as easy to achieve as it sounds. I find it refreshing that she’s so young and so unschooled in these things and yet is competent, determined and shows empathy for others.
I declined the audiobook because the narrator in the version I was offered sounded too old. I’m glad not to have her between me and the text, suppressing Hilary’s vitality.
40%. – Is it just me, or is Henry playing Darcy to Hillary’s Elizabeth Bennet?
I’ve just read the beautifully written chapter where Hilary goes, with a mixture of reluctance and excitement, to talk over the case with Henry. It’s a perfect RomCom chapter with that shows the fire and sparkle and strength and vulnerability that sets the best of those scenes apart from their not-quite-getting-it canned-laughter wannabe brethren.
I’ve seen from the posts here that the consensus is that we don’t like Henry, or at least that we’ll only like him after Hilary has knocked some of the sharp edges off.
I’d expected him to be a bore. I found him to be a young man who is trying to live up to someone else’s view of what being a man means. He seemed quite human to me. A mansplainer, socially inept, emotionally distant on the outside and trying hard not to listen to his own emotions because he suspects they’ll make him weaker rather than stronger – but those are all things he can get over with the right training.
As Hilary told me that she would refuse to be trampled by Henry’s high horse and raised her chin to tell him that any wife would leave him or be broken by him, a light went on in my mind and I thought, “I recognise this: Henry is Darcy is a lounge suit and Hilary is Elizabeth Bennet with a little of the entitlement rubbed off”.
45%. – just spent a chapter inside Henry’s head…
…and I retract the Darcy comment.
The man thinks of Hilary as a a dog to be trained. My mother repeatedly gave me a piece of relationship advice that repelled me: “As you train your pup, you’ll have your dog”. I think someone gave Henry the same advice and he took it to heart.
I doubt that dogs would like him much.
62%.- well, that excitement was unexpected
I’ve just read the incident on the fog-bound road. I thought that was well done and not at all what I was expecting. This was very tense and really put Hilary at risk.
Hilary is the making of this novel. I love the imp that lives in her head and the rhymes it supplies her with. Here’s an example of Hilary’s interior monologue when she is lost in the countryside in the fog at night, trying to get away from her pursuers.
“Suppose there wasn’t any house. Suppose this wasn’t a real place at all. Suppose she had got into a nightmare where an endless path went on, and on, and on through an everlasting fog. That was a very stupid thought. If you had one single grain of sense you didn’t let yourself think that sort of thought when you were trying to find your way in a fog. Here Hilary’s imp cocked a snook at her and said rudely: “If you had a grain of sense you wouldn’t have come.” He made a sort of jingle of it, and it went echoing round and round inside her head:
“You’d have stayed at home, you wouldn’t have come.
You wouldn’t have come, you’d have stayed at home.”