Regular readers of the Miss Silver mystery series by Patricia Wentworth know that she finds the cases she ultimately solves in a variety of ways. Occasionally they just pop up wherever she happens to be and she is drawn in. Sometimes a stranger in a train carriage turns into a client in need of her services. More and more often as the series progresses, she gets referrals from previous, satisfied customers.
And a not inconsiderable number come to our intrepid Miss Maud Silver, former governess and current enquiry agent in 1950s England, through her young admirer, Detective Inspector Frank Abbott of Scotland Yard. Between Miss Silver and DI Abbott, they must know nearly every living soul in England, which is certainly a handy attribute for a crime-solver. In Poison in the Pen, the 27th entry in the series, DI Abbott tells her about his recent visit to a distant cousin, a recent widow now living in the village of Tilling Green, where she has been the recipient of some upsetting anonymous letters. Miss Silver agrees to go undercover (which is to say, disguised as the little old lady she actually is) and take a room in the village to see what she can find out. Even before she’s packed her bags she learns that a young woman from the village has drowned (the inquest suggests she killed herself after receiving anonymous letters) and another young woman dies shortly after she arrives in Tilling Green.
Miss Ecles was extremely efficient. It would be unfair to say that she enjoyed the situation, but she certainly enjoyed her own competence in dealing with it.
Solving the most recent murder involves a lot of eliminating suspects through timelines and everyone’s dirty secrets being aired out in the open, the universal condition of living in a small town. The only aspect I didn’t love was that Miss Silver once again puts herself in physical danger by confronting the murderer, which for a woman with such a strong connection to and respect from law enforcement seems to strain credulity. Nonetheless, Poison in the Pen was an enjoyable way to spend an evening, and left me with some choice quotes along the way.
Few people are prepared to subordinate their private feelings to their public duty.