Friday, 5 November 2010

"The Listening Eye" by Patricia Wentworth

Patricia Wentworth was a Golden Age detective writer who should be reckoned the equal of Agatha Christie, Margery Allingham, Ngaio Marsh and Dorothy L. Sayers. Why is it that the great Golden Age writers were all women? She lived a long life (1878-1961) and was a prolific writer. Her books, which stretch to over two pages of Twentieth Century Crime and Mystery Writers, were published at roughly two a year between 1910 and 1961.

The Listening Eye dates from 1957, though it still has a "between the wars" feel to it, with its chaste romances, country house weekends, servants, boarding houses, settlements and allowances. It features Wentworth's lady detective Miss Silver, who is inevitably compared to Christie's Miss Marple. That Christie should apparently have stood the test of time far better is hard to understand from a purely literary point of view. Wentworth's writing is at least as good, and Miss Silver is a genuine semi-professional detective as opposed to Miss Marples, who is essentially a glorified small town gossip. It seems largely due to the fact that Christie has been sold hard (done to death?) by film and television whereas Wentworth has not.

I had quibbles with this book. It is not a genuine detective story in the sense of clues being laid out which, if properly considered, can bring one to a realisation of the nature of the crime and the murderer's identity. Although we are privy to Miss Silver's thinking, at least one of her hunches turns out to have been wrong. However, the writing and the characterisation more than makes up for this. The characters are unusually three-dimensional for what is a standard detective story, and the prose is well-crafted.

Fortunately, I have read very few of Wentworth's books, and my local library is well stocked with them ...

1 comment:

Kitchen Benchtops said...

I enjoyed reading Patricia Wentworth novels and I'd definitely buy more of them if they were as inexpensive as this one.