Unlawful Occasions (book #150)

Patricia Wentworth, 1941.

I have a cold and some stuff going on that has put me out of routine and made me reach for comfort reading, so I am alternating Patricia Wentworth’s non-Miss Silver books with DE Stevenson. I got a batch of both from the County Fiction Store and they go well together.

Cover of Unlawful Occasions

This isn’t one of the best Wentworths. The start is good, with the protagonist, Sarah, meeting an elderly woman in a station waiting room. The woman has been given a mysterious parcel by a wounded man on a train and is worried about what to do with it. When Sarah gets on her own train, she finds the parcel in her own bag.

The reader has to swallow a lot of coincidence, however, when we find out that the people with whom Sarah lives are involved in the mystery. It’s also hard to accept Sarah’s reason for not going to the police.

This is more of a gothic novel or woman-in-danger novel than anything else, with Sarah eventually trapped in her underwear (pink crêpe-de-chine) in the snow. Unusually for Wentworth, there are two men genuinely in love with the heroine. The ending is rather sudden.

The book was published as “Weekend With Death” in America. There’s a brief review at The Locked Room.

A couple of things reminded me of the Miss Silver books. The villain’s drawing room has “a fine period collection of photogravures represeting the more popular works of Landseer and Millais. There was a Soul’s Awakening over the mantelpiece, flanked by a Monarch of the Glen and a Dignity and Impudence“. I looked at the pictures in Miss Silver’s flat in my post about Christie’s Five Little Pigs. She has both the Soul’s Awakening (actually James Sant, not Millais or Landseer) and the Monarch of the Glen / Stag at Bay, as well as Millais’s Bubbles. It’s slightly odd that Wentworth repurposes the art from her detective’s rooms to her villain’s house.

There’s also considerable focus on how cold the country house is – something that Miss Silver also worries about, making sure she takes her fur tippet if staying in one.

And, in the middle of the terror, Sarah is gripped by Volume I of Charlotte Yonge’s The Pillars of the House:

Actually she found this a most enthralling work. What ingeniously ordered lives this vast Victorian family read. How small a happening could rouse and hold one’s interest. Felix’s birthday tip from his godfather, and the burning question of how much of it should go into the family exchequer, and whether he would be justified in blueing part of it on a picnic – with a wagonette – for the entire family, Papa, Mamma, and ten brothers and sisters. When Papa expired and Mamma had twins the same day, thus bringing the family up to thirteen, and Felix and Wilmet had to support them all, the contest between Miss Yonge’s ingenuity and Sarah’s scepticism became excitingly acute. It might have been done, she could even believe that it had been done, and though not in sight of the end of Vol. I, she contemplated turning out all the shelves till she tracked down Vol. II.

Miss Silver is also a fan of Yonge, as I mentioned in my post on Latter End.

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