The landlady of a London boarding house finds herself reluctantly visiting an art exhibition at the urging of a young relation (whose very modern art is incomprehensible to her) and one of her boarders (whose portrait of her is part of the show). Apart from having to think up something nice to say about her nephew’s work, the evening is pretty uneventful until Paulina happens to eavesdrop on a conversation between two men who are apparently planning a crime. At first, the men aren’t aware that Paulina knows what they were talking about because she’s clear across the gallery. But when the manager lets slip to one of the men that she’s deaf and a remarkably proficient lipreader, Paulina fears she may be in danger. Who better to consult than Miss Silver?
That’s the setup for The Listening Eye (1955), the 28th entry in Patricia Wentworth’s series about governess-turned-private-eye Maud Silver. In the course of her investigation, Miss Silver winds up undercover as a social secretary to Lucas Bellingdon, a wealthy businessman who was one of the victims of the original crime that Paulina heard being planned. In fact, everyone living or visiting the Bellingdon country home for a long weekend seems to have a motive for being involved. As always, there are only two questions that need to be answered in a Miss Silver novel: Who done it, and which young couple will end up in the happily-ever-after romantic spotlight?
I was intrigued at first that Maudie was going undercover in a working role rather than being a visiting friend of the family or some other transparent dodge. But given that she does absolutely no work while she’s there, all the while busily interrogating everyone in the house, it’s hard to see how her cover doesn’t get blown sooner than it does. Nonetheless, Wentworth put together a fine cast of characters, including some really nasty pieces of work and some humorously inept figures to provide some levity. This wasn’t my favorite of the Miss Silver series, but it’s still perfectly fine. I’m already looking forward to the next.