Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Ladies' Bane - Patricia Wentworth

First published 1954 (UK).

First sentence: Looking back, Ione Muir was to wonder what would have happened if she had chosen any other day to go up to town.

Patricia Wentworth (1878 - 1961; pseudonym of Dora May Elles) wrote over 70 novels between 1928 and her death. Her retired governess sleuth, Miss Maud Silver, features in 31 of those novels.

Ladies' Bane is not, I think, one of Wentworth's best mysteries, but I enjoyed it, especially the haunting, gothic feel to the house scenes early in the book. Ladies' Bane is the name of a centuries' old mansion located a day's train ride from London. It is called Ladies' Bane because of the curse it supposedly holds: each successive lady of the house will lose that which she holds most dear.

The book starts with a frightening experience for Ione Muir, who loses her way in a thick London fog and overhears two strangers discussing the murder of an unknown person. Fast forward to Ladies' Bane, where Ione's sister Allegra has lived with her husband, the "sinfully goodlooking" Geoffrey Trent, since their marriage two years before. Ione has barely arrived for her first visit when she discovers her sister is a drug addict, and Geoffrey's young ward Margot dies horribly in a freak accident.

Soon an attempt is made on Ione's life, the butler is murdered, the ward's governess reveals hidden passions, doubt is cast on Margot's accident, and Miss Silver is called in, along with Frank Abbott from Scotland Yard. As usual with a Miss Silver novel, a lot happens in a very short space of time. The ending isn't a surprise, or at least it wasn't to me. However, that's to be expected when you've read at least 20 other Miss Silver novels, which do all follow a similar formula.

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