There is another female detective similar in style and nature to Agatha Christie’s Miss Jane Marple. The other Miss Marple is Miss Maude Silver, the fictional character created by Patricia Wentworth. She appears in 32 classic whodunit crime novels in a traditional style of mysteries similar to Agatha Christie.
Patricia Wentworth introduced her character in the novel Grey Mask in 1928. That was before Agatha Christie wrote Murder at the Vicarage in 1930, where she presented her little old lady sleuth. However, Miss Marple appeared in a short story in 1926. Let’s take a closer look at our two lady sleuths.
They are avid knitters who use their craft to provide a sense of comfort to those affected by the crime and a means of allowing their minds to digest the information discovered.
While they are of a similar age, there is one significant difference. Miss Marple lives a quiet life and inadvertently finds crimes that need solving. She relies on her knowledge of village life and her nosy nature to identify clues.
After she retired as a teacher and governess, Miss Maude Silver became a professional detective. Clients hire her to solve cases, and the income from her work provides a comfortable life for her.
Police view Miss Marple as an interfering busybody when she engages in her sleuthing. Later after many successful solutions, she finally earns the respect of the police inspectors.
Miss Silver has a different working relationship with the police. The police often use Maude to get close to the potential victims and suspects since they often have limited access to the local social scene. When she’s working on a case, Miss Silver keeps the police informed, usually Ernest Lamb, a chief investigator, or Randal March, the county’s chief constable, where many of Miss Silver’s cases occur.
Miss Marple often relies on village residents and their activities to provide similarities for solving the current case. Miss Maud Silver quotes Alfred Lord Tennyson’s writings for her inspiration. The police are often lost as to how this information relates to the present case but quickly learn if they rely on the ladies, all will become clear.
Patricia Wentworth (1878-1961) created Miss Maud Silver. She started publishing in 1910 and introduced Miss Silver, the character that brought her fame in the 1920s.
Dora Amy Turnbull (Wentworth) was born in Mussoorie, Uttarakhand, India, to her father, General Edmond Elles, and her mother, Lady Clare Elles. She received a private education and later attended London’s Blackheath High School for Girls.
She married Lt. Col. George Frederick Horace Dillon. They had one daughter, and she was the stepmother to his three sons. Two of the sons died in World War I. Wentworth was the middle name of one of the sons who died, and she adopted that as her pen name. After the death of her first husband, she married Lt. Col. George Oliver Turnbull in 1920.
In addition to Miss Silver’s mysteries, she wrote 34 other books. She won the Melrose Prize in 1910 for her first novel, A Marriage Under the Terror, set during the French Revolution. Dora Amy Turnbull died on January 28, 1961, at age 83.
Miss Silver Books-Grey Mask (Book 10)
Miss Maud Silver is a minor character in the first book Grey Mask. She is not contacted to help with the solution of the case until much later in the book. Instead, the story focuses on the main character, Charles Moray, who has returned home after being jilted at the altar four years earlier.
He is staying at a London hotel while he decides what to do with the childhood home he has inherited. During a nighttime visit, he hears voices in the supposedly empty house. Moray uses a secret closet with a peephole he used as a child to spy on the gathering.
He witnesses a mysterious meeting led by a man in a grey mask. As other visitors arrive, they are greeted only by a number rather than a name. He’s about to call the police when the last attendee enters the room. It’s his ex-fiancé, Margaret, who has brought documents to the grey mask.
The members of the secret meeting are discussing a plot to steal an inheritance from a young girl, Margot Standing. Instead of going to the police, Moray turns to Miss Silver for advice.
“Miss Silver sat in front of a pad of pink blotting paper. She was a little person with no features, no complexion, and a great deal of tidy mouse-colored hair done in a large bun at the back of her head. She inclined her head slightly but did not offer to shake hands.”
The story shifts from Moray and Margaret to Margot. Margot is a naïve girl whose father has died without a will, and her birthright is questionable. She runs away to avoid an unwanted marriage to a cousin who has inherited the family fortune and, in a contrived coincidence, runs into Margaret. By the end of the story, Miss Silver solves the mystery. Moray reestablished his relationship with Margret, Margaret faces events in her past, and Margot regains her fortune.
Books-Miss Silver Comes to Stay (Book 16)
No sooner does Miss Silver arrive in a quiet English Village when a murder occurs. James Lessiter has also recently arrived in the village after a twenty-year absence. He is extremely wealthy and has now inherited his mother’s extensive property in the town. Rather than settling into village life, he embarks on settling scores with village residents.
He accuses Catherine Lee of selling items he claims were on loan from his mother. He broke up with Rietta Cray quite unexpectedly many years ago. Now he wants to renter and control her life. These two women are not the only ones impacted by his return. Several others do not mourn the departure of Lessiter when he is murdered.
With a full list of suspects, Miss Silver begins her interviews and observations and methodically assembles the puzzle pieces. And as always, she is there, not to compete but to help the local police force. “If she comes in on the case, the police come out of it in a blaze of glory.”
The Miss Silver Plots
Miss Silver books have a group of suspects with a motive for murder and alibis that don’t always hold up. She must sort through all the facts to determine the real killer. And typical of Golden Age mysteries, there are plenty of red herrings to stump the reader. As in the two examples above, most books concern a young couple who cannot proceed with their romance until the murder is solved.
Miss Silver is nearly an invisible player in the stories. When she enters the story, she knows what leads to follow and what questions to ask to trap the suspect. She keeps the police informed and manages to be in the right spot when important events occur.
The solution always relies on Miss Silver’s uncanny abilities. “She has the most extraordinary flair. No, it’s something more than that. She knows people. All the things they hide behind, appearance, manner, the show we all put up to prevent other people from knowing too much about us. She sees right through them and judges you on what’s left.”
While the books have similar plots, each one is a good read. And for readers who like a series, there are 32 books to devour. All are available from Amazon in both print and audiobook versions.