Thursday, January 11, 2007

"Anna, Where Are You?" - Patricia Wentworth

First published 1951; cover shown is the 1992 HarperPerennial (USA) paperback edition. Cover art by John Jinks.

"Anna, Where Are You?", one of the thirty-odd Miss Silver mysteries, is definitely one of the most interesting. Miss Maud Silver is a dowdy middle-aged spinster who retired from the thankless life of a governess to be a private inquiry agent. Normally solving murders in sleepy English country villages, in this novel another level is added.

When young governess Anna Ball goes missing after arriving at her new post with the Craddocks at Deepe House in Lincolnshire, her only friend, Thomasina Elliot, hires Miss Silver to investigate. To do so, Miss Silver does something she has never done before: she goes undercover and becomes a governess all over again.

While successfully taming the three wild Craddock children, Miss Silver commences her discreet investigations. The Craddocks live in a crumbling mansion in the countryside, with a colony of artists, bird watchers and would-be psychics living in the attached cottages. Mr Craddock, a herbalist and astrologor, is a completely unlikeable man who has beaten his quiet wife into a sad, pathetic mess.

The investigation escalates when Thomasina invites herself to Deepe House to begin her own investigations; something Miss Silver does not approve of at all. Nor does Peter Brandon, who follows Thomasina down from London and provides the requisite romantic interest in the story.

Soon it becomes obvious that Anna Ball was not the "nobody" that everybody thought she was, and after local bank robberies end in innocent deaths, Detective Frank Abbott of Scotland Yard - Miss Silver's most respectful admirer - realises that once again Maudie is right where the action is. By the time Anna's disappearance is solved and the bank robbers and murderers are discovered I had already worked out who did it and how it was done. But as usual it's the characters that are the most interesting part of the novel, especially Jennifer, the eldest Craddock child.

Patricia Wentworth (1878 - 1961) was the pseudonym of Dora Amy Elles Turnbull, an English writer of over 70 novels. A contemporary of Agatha Christie, Wentworth wrote her first Miss Silver novel in 1928.

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