The Gazebo by Patricia Wentworth

The Gazebo  by Patricia Wentworth

published 1955

‘the afternoon of Mrs Justice’s cocktail party’ – a dress suggestion for Althea, from the Clover tumbler

While I was reading The Gazebo I wondered if there would be enough to say about it to make a whole blogpost, as the plot is not a great one. But it turned out that the side issues were full of interest, and I had a very full set of notes by the time I got to the end. Strap yourselves in.

The book is a strange mixture of suburban life and an exotic treasure hunt, and the title has suffered its own problems. When it was written, a gazebo would have had an air of upmarket exoticism: ordinary people didn’t have a gazebo. But now (in the UK anyway) it is a temporary structure you have in the garden for barbeques, or a quick solution to any outdoor problem. Dirty white plastic, drooping on poles – it’s a sad comedown for the word, and hardly one Miss Silver could have predicted. Though there is a luxury ‘Wentworth Gazebo’ on the market, very fancy and with a price to match:

So let’s move straight on to:

The Patent Miss Silver Checklist


Miss Silver only coughs 12 times in this book, a very low count, but they are some of  her more active ones: reproving, meditative, to draw attention to an important remark.


Pink vests for a small child. A ‘deep smoky violet’ twinset for lucky Ethel, to go with her new skirt.


Here comes Myra to provide contrast for the heroine, in some fine bright clothes:


She was a decorative creature, vivid as a poster in brown corduroy slacks and an orange cardigan above which her hair glowed like a newly minted penny… There was colour in the cheeks, there was a brightly painted mouth.


And later:

bronze hair, scarlet lipstick, and a dress with a halter-neck in a surprising shade of green.

(Trousers from Clover  Halterneck dress, from the Clover Vintage Tumblr)

‘Coatee’ is interesting –  there are a few of them on the blog. The word was in common use, both with a specific meaning in military uniforms and as a  short fitted jacket for women or babies, but is very rare now. Miss Silver herself is one for a coatee – and a recent Agatha Christie entry has a character ready to wear one over an evening dress for extra warmth. Here a character gets a coatee to match her new dress.

‘I’ll say that for her, she pays for a bit of brightening up!’ I have said before: ‘I am always fascinated by the idea of ‘pays for dressing’, a great favourite phrase from books of the era.’ I discuss it at some length in this post.

Noteworthy occupations The hero, Nicholas, goes in for travel journalism by visiting unknown places: he mentions ‘an Asian desert scourged by Polar winds [and] leech-infested swamps.’ Then there is this exquisite bit of affectedness:

In some of those places the merest momentary failure to control himself could have meant instant and imminent danger. He had walked strange paths, watched strange rites, kept strange company.

Others believe his occupation makes him more likely to be a murderer. ‘life in those sort of places would be calculated to rub off some of the finer scruples.’

There is someone who can use rods to divine not just water but other materials.

Unusual names

Disappointing. Althea, known as Thea. Dulcie: pretty much unknown now? I have said before that only wrong’uns get the name in Noel Streatfeild books: I think a Dulcie must have done her down in childhood. Dulcie is one of the main characters in Barbara Pym’s 1961 No Fond Return of Love.

We are given the surprising news that ‘You hardly ever hear of anyone called Frank nowadays, do you?'

It’s a long way from the glory days of Wentworth – there’s mention of a name from Danger Point some years earlier. About that book I said: ‘Lisle and Dale Jerningham have about the most archetypical Wentworth names ever. You can just roll those over in your mind can’t you? And do you know for sure which is the man and which the woman?’

Furniture Watch + Unusual Word

And something of a mystery. Althea seats herself on ‘one of those square upholstered dumps a good deal in vogue at the time of Mrs Graham’s marriage….The dump on which she was sitting afforded no back against which she could lean.’

I read this book on my Kindle, and I actually wondered if ‘dump’ was an error in the OCR, and another word was meant. I went to the trouble of checking in a print copy, and it most definitely is ‘dump’. But I cannot find any other such usages of this word. From context it would seem to be an upholstered footstool or pouffe? Has anyone else (@lucy Fisher) come across it? Mrs Graham’s marriage would have been in the late1920s, if that helps. (Though the hideous Mrs G, hilariously, is forever making free with her age now, and at marriage, ‘moving the date for years…beyond 16 she would, unfortunately, not be able to go’)


The policeman says ‘Thank you, Miss Pimm’ to one of three gossip-y sisters, and an older sister says “with an edge on her voice, ‘Miss Lily, if you please, Inspector. I am Miss Pimm.”

-back in the day, this was important naming custom. So using Pride & Prejudice as an example, oldest sister Jane is Miss Bennet, and then there’s Miss Elizabeth, Miss Mary and so on. Always good to spot historical TV dramas getting it wrong (as they do all the time, without horrible Miss Pimm to correct them)

How many people were in the Gazebo around the time of the murder?

Three people meet there. They disperse, but then some of them definitely come back, and another two characters turn up. Yet another person is reputed to be arriving, but it is not clear if he ever gets there. So: 6 or 7 separate visits.

A new category: heartless behaviour

Wentworth always does a good line in bad selfish mothers, and there is a particularly monstrous one here: draining the life out of her daughter, and calling for pillows, hotwater bottle and the blue bedjacket.

But for sheer ruthless callousness, we must turn to a bad man who is about to kill someone, and objects to paying for a nice tea beforehand:

Fancy cakes and chocolate biscuits for a woman who was going to be dead and out of his way before the day was an hour older – well, there wasn’t any sense in it, was there?

He makes your blood run cold.


All round, plenty to enjoy in the book. Miss Silver does some solid detecting– rootling round in the attic looking at old books, and conducting a very fine interview with those gossipy Pimm sisters.

The romantic problem is not as stupid as normal. There is a villainous tactic that resembles one in Agatha Christie’s The Moving Finger.

The plot isn’t the selling point here – too guessable – but there are excellent elements, and some interesting characters.


  1. It's funny how names go in and out of fashion, isn't it, Moira? The first (and actually only) time I saw the name Dulcie, it was in book. Nobody I know (or know of) has that name. And you make an interesting point about the coatee; I think I remember that from Christie, but you don't see them now. Thank you for your comments about the gazebo, too. I've read quite a few novels where the gazebo was a point of pride, and figured into wealthy people's landscapes. They're interesting and picturesque.

    1. Oh yes Margot, I'm the same, now you mention it - I've never known anyone in real life called Dulcie! As I always say, crime stories are great for tracking other things as well as murders - names, coatees and gazebos!

  2. The word dumpy is used in some parts of Scotland to refer to a footstool.

    1. Thank you, helpful! I have now found one instance of 'dumpy' in a different novel in that context, an AS BYatt book.

  3. Honestly, Moira, I always feel when I read your one of your Wentworth posts that it's better than actually reading the novel. You've picked out all the bits I'd most enjoy.

  4. Sorry, it's Chrissie, didn't mean to be anon.

  5. "Dulcie Domum" wrote Bad Housekeeping in The Guardian years ago, about the horrors of country life. Any later appearances of the name?

    1. Oh yes, I'd forgotten that. Even then it was old-fashioned, and only used for the Latin pun I think.
      There's a Mills&Boon book of 2012 with a heroine called Dulcie - but somehow that just proves the point.
      The world has pivoted: it's all dulce de leche now, which no-one English had heard of 30 years ago...

  6. There was a Western on US television in the 1970's which had a character named Dulcey. The actress playing her was Jill Townsend, who also played the old flame of Ross Poldark in the original series.

    1. Excellent connections there Marty, thank you!

    2. Dulcie Coopersmith, playing opposite Stuart Whitman in "The Cimarron Strip." IIRC, she was a highly unlikely and very genteel barmaid.

    3. Great work by Shay too. I remember the name Cimarron Strip, but nothing else. (it's a very nice name...) It seemed so natural that there were so many Western series back in the day, and seems so odd now...

  7. You may have seen this already, but I just discovered it: a chart of Miss Silver's knitting projects, book by book.

    1. Indeed, an invaluable resource, and one I am delighted to feature again. Wonderful work by Aubrey.

  8. The OED says "dump, n. A term familiarly applied to various objects of ‘dumpy’ shape." and also "dumpy, n. 3. A low stuffed seat or cushion; a humpty."

    1. Oh well done - my dictionary too limited! Mind you, I love a definition that helpfully equates it with a humpty. I wonder which came first, the furniture or the nursery rhyme... is one called after the other?

  9. Oh gosh, thanks for this all round tour of The Gazebo. It almost sounds like it might be fun to read, and with only 12 coughs, too.

    Dulcie. Such a fluffy sounding name, like Candy or Brandi. When we put on The Boyfriend in high school, in 19mumble mumble, Dulcie was one of the characters (along with Maisie, Polly and some other bubbly name). And as you said, Dulcie was the label given to the very likeable and far from fluff-headed protag in No Fond Return of Love, though I just tried to ignore it.

    Though, hmmm, I'm beginning to have the feeling I have read this one (of perhaps 3 PWs I've ever read) The title seems to ring a bell, from a distant past, and the line about Nicholas and his strange past. Well, whatever...

    1. To be fair, it can be quite difficult to distinguish among the PW books, and the titles don't always help - this one is unusually specfic. 'Miss Silver Intervenes' and 'Miss Silver Comes to Stay' would cover nearly all of them!
      I'm always fascinated by first names, their fashions and what they suggest to us. So subjective in one way (I always think many opinions come from children we liked or disliked at age 6), and yet also many of us will share a view.

  10. The only Dulcie I can recall was Dulcie Gray, who was an actress and appeared in plays and films with her husband Michael Dennison, including the film version of Josephine' Tey's The Franchise Affair. She also appeared in Howard's Way, a 1980s UK TV show. (A sort of mid-budget UK version of Dallas involving boat builders)
    The selfish mother trope seemed to be a favourite of hers - Mrs and Miss Lemming in Miss Silver Intervenes were a memorable version. As far as I can recall she seemed to marry off the downtrodden daughters to comparatively pleasant men rather than swapping one tyranny for another.

    1. Oh yes, I think of her as my mother's generation, and more or less forgotten now. Howard's Way! there was a programme. All those men in blue blazers & women in cocktail dresses going over to the drinks tray in their over-decorated sitting rooms.
      I just looked up Dulcie Gray and it says 'actress, mystery writer and lepidopterist'. And people think the Kardashians invented that kind of multi-tasking.
      I am going to have to try to to find a Dulcie Gray murder story now I think - your fault!
      Yes PW was good on selfish mothers, and I remember cheering on the daughter in the one you mention - she finally stands up for herself over a beautiful skirt, IIRC, so a very Clothes in Books moment.

  11. I am longing for a deep smokey violet twinset, though maybe not a halter neck dress in a surprising shade of green. Wentworth's books make me laugh so much and I feel she genuinely enjoyed writing them.

    1. that is an excellent summing up of what makes them such a good read!
      And yes, I sighed for the twinset.

  12. I want that twinset- except maybe I'd prefer a cowlneck sweater and a cardigan. But I love the color idea.
    The only literary Dulcies I can think of are Noel Streatfield's Dulcie in Dancing Shoes, and Lenora Mattingly Weber's Dulcie in the Beany Malone girls book series.
    I just got all my Wentworths out of storage and on shelves, so I may start reading through them again. I do remember liking Althea, she felt a bit like Anne from Persuasion in being tied to a very selfish parent and giving up her chances because she couldn't say no. Althea is also very human, she finds out her old boyfriend is coming back to town and she immediately brightens up her look because she doesn't want him to know just how frumpy she's felt the last few years. I was meh on Nicholas, but at least he wanted Althea to have a life.
    And I agree, that line is so chilling. So sociopathic.

    1. I know. I always say that in even the less-good Wentworths, there will always be something that's memorable and unusual and striking. I think deep smoky violet is a colour I'm going to be looking for from now on.
      Yes, I love your perceptions of Althea, she has a lot going for her, and there is a self-awareness about her that I like.


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