Patricia Wentworth, 1952.
This is one of the most rocking Miss Silvers. She appears fairly early on – page 56 in my edition (a typo-ridden Coronet, 1982). Miss Silver’s niece Ethel and her great-niece Josephine actually appear, in a great domestic scene. There is some good dry humour:
[Miss Silver] did not care for the book they had given her at the library, and she thought [she – typo] would change it. She would prefer a novel in which the characters had at least heard of the ten commandments …
Ethel is “one of those who prefer to read about people whose circumstances as nearly as possible resemble their own”. Miss Silver chooses a library book for her, “hastily looking at the end to make sure that no harrowing incident cut short any of the infant lives, and finding the entire family very happily grouped round a Christmas tree on the last page” – very Pink Sugar. One does wonder how the intelligent Miss Silver puts up with the apparently rather dull Ethel.
And we get a glimpse of Miss Silver’s underwear:
Miss Larkin [police searcher], being passionately addicted to crochet, became quite warm in her admiration of the edging which decorated Miss Silver’s high-necked spencer and serviceable flannelette knickers, which had three rows on each leg, each row being a little wider than the last. On being informed that the design was original she was emboldened to ask for the pattern, which Miss Silver promised to write down for her.
She’s also good in this book on people* who don’t care about clothes, including probably Miss Silver herself, though clearly she does care enough to add embellishments to her knickers.
*by which I mean women, as obviously men aren’t interested in clothes.
And Randall March’s opinion of Miss Silver is more nuanced than usual: “His feelings for her were those of affection, gratitude, and the deepest respect, with an occasional tinge of impatience”. The author is also faintly critical: “Miss Silver was, perhaps, inclined to describe quite small things as providential. The fact that during this time of waiting she had been able to finish off the second stocking of the pair she was makig for Derek Burkett did undoubtedly present itself in this light”.
We also get Miss Silver’s positive reaction to a sermon, an apparently powerful one that tells us that “‘every single one of us every single day of our lives thinks, and says, and does the things which are the seed from which murder springs'”.
There’s some interesting stuff on love and need too. Marion tells Richard, who is in love with her, that she’s dull: “‘You would soon come to the end of it. Then it would bore you'”. He says that “‘most of the things that really matter … are fundamentally simple. … You don’t get tired of what you need'”.
Also, didn’t know that – as this implies – “I couldn’t agree more” has sometimes been thought not good use of language. When March says it Miss Silver thinks “He had not learned this phrase in her schoolroom, but she let it pass”. Not sure what the issue is about it.
And there is a Scottish cat called Mactavish, whose “orange coat recalled the best Dundee marmalade,” and who makes “a meticulous toilet”. What more could one ask for?