The Girl in the Cellar by Patricia Wentworth

Patricia Wentworth began her Miss Silver series in 1928 and she wrote the final one The Girl in the Cellar in 1961 which was the last book which she wrote. As Wentworth was born way back in 1878 I calculate that she was 83 when she wrote the book, which probably accounts for it not being quite up to the standard of some of her earlier books.

Having said that I did still enjoy it. It begins with a young woman recovering consciousness on stone steps, she has no idea how she got there and is horrified to discover a dead body at the bottom of the stairs in what turns out to be a house cellar. She has no idea how she got there and doesn’t even know who she is, she has forgotten everything and her only clues to her life are in a handbag which she finds on the cellar steps.

Bewildered and shocked she makes her way out of the house and gets on a bus where she is noticed by Miss Silver who takes her for a nice cup of tea of course.

Miss Silver doesn’t appear all that much in the book, but she is still knitting, a pink shawl to begin with and at the end she is on to a football jersey. There are crazy coincidences but it’s still readable.

What struck me though was the difference between modern crime writers and the ones from the past. Ian Rankin set out to write a Rebus book every year and Rebus aged chronolgically as a real person would have. But the old writers tended to ignore such things, Miss Silver started off as an elderly retired governess in 1928 and by the time Wentworth was writing the last book in 1961 Miss Silver would have had to have been over 100, but she seemed always to be stuck at the same age. I suppose Wentworth must just have decided to write her that way, thinking about it though – Margery Allingham chose to begin with a young and seemingly wet behind the ears Campion and aged him into a more interesting maturity eventually. I think I prefer a character to develop over a series, but I don’t think Agatha Christie aged Miss Marple over the years, I suppose some characters are just best stuck in aspic.

6 thoughts on “The Girl in the Cellar by Patricia Wentworth

  1. That is interesting about the difference between some of the vintage mystery series and most of the current ones. Rex Stout did not age Archie Goodwin and Nero Wolfe even though the series was written over a 40 year period. It can be interesting both ways.

    • TracyK,
      Yes I agree, but I think it would be more interesting for the writer to give the characters developing personalities as they age, but maybe some would think that was making their work harder for them.

  2. I am so happy that I have so many of these books to track down and read. That said, I do like series where the characters develop – which usually means age as well.

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