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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Grey Mask by Patricia Wentworth

Grey Mask was originally published in 1928 and is the first of Wentworth's Miss Silver mysteries.

Book Description:  Charles Moray has come home to England to collect his inheritance. After four years wandering the jungles of India and South America, the hardy young man returns to the manor of his birth, where generations of Morays have lived and died. Strangely, he finds the house unlocked, and sees a light on in one of its abandoned rooms. Eavesdropping, he learns of a conspiracy to commit a fearsome crime. 

Never one for the heroic, Charles's first instinct is to let the police settle it. But then he hears her voice. Margaret, his long lost love, is part of the gang. To unravel their diabolical plot, he contacts Miss Silver, a onetime governess who applies her reason to solve crimes and face the dangers of London's underworld.

If you enjoy classic "whodunits" from the 1920's - 1930's, you will enjoy this novel.  Wentworth is in the company of other Golden Age of Detective Fiction authors including Agatha Christie, Margery Allingham, Josephine Tey, Ngaio Marsh, and Edmund Crispin, among others.  I mention these authors because they are authors I've read and enjoyed.  The novels are dated and are definitely contemporary to the time and place and have a particular style.  It is a style that has always appealed to me and the "rules" that guide these novels are one reason I like them.

An author that I haven't read, Ronald Knox, created the following 
Decalogue of rules for this type of mystery:

  • The criminal must be mentioned in the early part of the story, but must not be anyone whose thoughts the reader has been allowed to know.
  • All supernatural or preternatural agencies are ruled out as a matter of course.
  • Not more than one secret room or passage is allowable.
  • No hitherto undiscovered poisons may be used, nor any appliance which will need a long scientific explanation at the end.
  • No Chinaman must figure in the story.
  • No accident must ever help the detective, nor must he ever have an unaccountable intuition which proves to be right.
  • The detective himself must not commit the crime.
  • The detective is bound to declare any clues which he may discover.
  • The "sidekick" of the detective, the Watson, must not conceal from the reader any thoughts which pass through his mind: his intelligence must be slightly, but very slightly, below that of the average reader.
  • Twin brothers, and doubles generally, must not appear unless we have been duly prepared for them.

  • :)  I like the list, even the Chinaman ban, a dig at Sax Rohmer and his Fu Manchu character and the Yellow Peril.  I read quite a few of Sax Rohmer's works for Carl's R.I.P. challenge a couple of years ago and enjoyed them, but the Fu Manchu character is definitely a negative stereotype that Knox found unworthy.

    Another author, S.S. Van Dine, composed a list of 20 prerequisites which were published in 1928.  Many are the same as the ones Knox presents but more detailed. Two of my favorites from his list:

       7. There simply must be a corpse in a detective novel, and the deader the corpse the better. No lesser crime than murder will suffice. Three hundred pages is far too much pother for a crime other than murder. After all, the reader's trouble and expenditure of energy must be rewarded.   

    17. A professional criminal must never be shouldered with the guilt of a crime in a detective story. Crimes by housebreakers and bandits are the province of the police departments — not of authors and brilliant amateur detectives. A really fascinating crime is one committed by a pillar of a church, or a spinster noted for her charities.

    I enjoyed this mystery and although Miss Silver has only rare appearances, Wentworth must have developed the character in the next novels featuring the retired governess.  I'm more than willing to find out!

    Has anyone else read a Miss Silver mystery?  Do you like other authors from this period?

    NetGalley/Open Road Media

    Mystery.  Original publication 1928; 2011. ISBN-10: 088411726X


    1. Jen, I love Josephine Tey. I particularly liked The Franchise Affair which was based on an actual event. Her books are so well written, each one is different from the others. I like Christie, too but have not read Allingham. SAyers is in that time period too, isn't she?

      I'll have to try Patricia Wentworth!

    2. Another thing: as you know, I'm a librarian and as I review our collection I find that sadly these classic crime novels aren't being read as much as they used to. Everyone wants the latest and "hottest". So I fear they will be forgotten, so thanks for reading and reviewing.

    3. Deb - Josephine Tey is my favorite. I reread Daughter of Time last year; it held up beautifully, and I enjoyed it as much as the first time. I should make a point to reread more of Tey.

      Your point about library collections is well-taken. I stopped this response to see what our library actually had of Josephine Tey. Only one... Her novels have been culled over the years, along with those of other writers of the period. Excepting Agatha, of course.

      It is fortunate that many are being re-published.

      How could I have left out Sayers? Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane are royalty of the period.

      I wonder what the "rules" for writing contemporary mystery/thriller/detective fiction would be?

    4. Cool and elegant. I like the list of rules, too.

    5. The rules are fascinating.