The fingerprint was the highlight of Jonathan Field's collection. He loved to tell visitors about how he got the fingerprint after a wartime bomb blast left him trapped with one other man in a bombed-out building. The other man confessed that he had committed a murder and gotten away with it. And, without the man's knowing it, Jonathan had managed to get a fingerprint from him - though he never saw the man's face and had no idea whether he had even escaped from that ruined house. But, Jonathan said, he would recognize the man's voice again - if he ever heard it.
Did that fingerprint lead to Jonathan being shot to death in his country house more than a decade later?
That's the question at the heart of "The Fingerprint," by Patricia Wentworth, featuring one of my favorite Elderly-British-Lady detectives, Miss Maud Silver. "The Fingerprint" is the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to the entire review by clicking here.
If you don't know Miss Silver, you're really missing a treat. She is often compared to Agatha Christie's Miss Marple - which is a little unfair to both of them. Miss Marple, after all, is an amateur sleuth. Miss Silver most decidedly is not. Miss Silver spent much of her life as a governess and school teacher. When she retired, she became a private investigator, and she has had a great many successes in tracking down dangerous criminals. Like Miss Marple, Miss Silver knits articles of clothing for the children of relatives and friends - and for much the same reason: nobody thinks twice about talking freely in the presence of an apparently harmless little old lady who is sitting nearby and knitting. That is a talent which certainly helps Miss Silver find her way to the truth in "The Fingerprint," for it is by no means a sure thing that Jonathan Field's murder had anything to do with that mysterious fingerprint specimen.
Miss Silver appeared in more than 30 books by Patricia Wentworth between her first appearance in 1928 and her last in 1961; "The Fingerprint" appeared in 1960. As such, it just makes it under the wire as another entry in the Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge, in the category: Leave It to the Professionals: a book featuring cops, private eyes, secret service, professional spies, etc. Miss Silver, as the complete professional, surely falls into this category."The Fingerprint" is one of a number of Miss Silver mysteries now available in e-book format, although there seem to be a fair number of used copies available as well through the network of used book dealers. While I think there are better Miss Silver books - particularly the early ones - "The Fingerprint" is enjoyable.