British mystery author Patricia Wentworth is best remembered today as the creator of Miss Maud Silver, a remarkable private investigator of keen wit and considerable insight into human behavior. She's quite similar, in many ways, to Agatha Christie's Miss Marple, and she appeared in thirty Wentworth mysteries. But Patricia Wentworth also wrote more than thirty other mysteries which do NOT feature Miss Silver. I must admit that I had never read any of them, even though I have always enjoyed the Miss Silver books.
Now, Dean Street Press is republishing all of Wentworth's non-Miss Silver books, and they sent me a copy of one of them, a 1945 mystery called Silence in Court, for this review. It's a remarkably strong story, and it's the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast. You can listen to the entire review by clicking here.
Silence in Court gives us an elderly and often unpleasant woman named Honoria Maquisten, who proves once again that – at least in mystery fiction – constantly changing your will can be extremely bad for your health. As the iron-fisted matriarch of a mid-sized family, Honoria’s favorite occupation appears to be altering her very sizable bequests to family members, reflecting current favorites and pariahs. The family claims to be quite used to it – Cousin Honoria would change beneficiaries with alarming frequency. Most of the family members say that they don’t take all this fiddling with the will very seriously.
Into this household, at Honoria’s request, comes a young woman named Carey Silence, the granddaughter of one of Honoria’s cousins. Honoria is quite taken with this young woman and insists on writing her into the will. There is some grumbling by the other beneficiaries, but there seems to be more than enough in the way of bequests to go around.
And then someone sends an anonymous letter to Honoria, apparently accusing somebody of serious misbehavior. And Honoria erupts in fury, threatening to rewrite her will one more time and – it is assumed – cut someone out of it completely and permanently this time.
Before she can do that, Cousin Honoria is dead, having taken far too many sleeping pills. That letter is missing. Evidence points to murder – and much of the evidence seems to point to Carey Silence. Did she kill her benefactor to avoid being cut out of the will? She is arrested and put on trial for murder. That trial – and her fight for her own life, compounded by the search for the real killer – is at the heart of Silence in Court. And, yes, that wordplay on "silence" in the title is quite deliberate.
This new edition from Dean Street Press features an introduction by mystery historian Curtis Evans. Even without Miss Silver to save the day, Silence in Court is thoroughly enjoyable.