the book: Through the Wall by Patricia Wentworth
LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES
Miss Silver stayed for an hour, and had managed to draw Mrs Brand into a slight show of interest over a pattern for long-sleeved vests and the address of a shop where the wool suitable for making them could be bought. It transpired that Florence had always worn wool next to the skin, and had now arrived at measurements which made it practically impossible for her to procure the necessary underwear….
[Everyone in the household has to be strip-searched in case they have blood-stained clothes.]
Miss Silver immediately offered herself as the first subject for search…Mrs Larkin, being passionately addicted to crochet, became quite warm in her admiration of the edging which decorated Miss Silver’s high-necked spencer and serviceable flannelette knickers, which had three rows on each leg, each row being a little wider than the last. On being informed that the design was original she was emboldened to ask for the pattern, which Miss Silver promised to write down for her. After which they parted on very friendly terms…
[The search continues] The cook Eliza gave Mrs Larkin and even Miss Silver the surprise of their lives when the removal of her black afternoon dress displayed pink silk cam-knickers with French legs. Nothing more compromising than this came to light.
observations: This is a stunner indeed. Vicki/Skiourophile came up with the news in a recent comment:
I've just read about some great knickers in Patricia Wentworth's Through the Wall, including Miss Silver's own knickers; and a bit about having to knit one's own underthings as too fat for shop ones. The mystery is a bit ho-hum, but there's a great cat.I had to download the book even before answering Vicki, AND then had to swat away some cheeky comments from Col of Col’s Criminal Library.
But then I had the story in all its glory.
I have recently been forced to reconsider Miss Silver after seeing this fascinating article by blogfriend Noah Stewart – anyone interested in crime fiction should read it. He made me determined to look at her tolerantly, and indeed I liked the first half of Through the Wall more than any of Wentworth’s that I’d read before. It starts with an uncle spying on his possible legatees, a ridiculous will, and a very strange household, thrown together solely, apparently, with the purpose of creating an impossible situation, an exciting bequest possibility, plenty of suspects, locked doors and a split house (rather like the incomprehensible one that turned up in Stella Gibbons' Starlight earlier this month on the blog). Kudos to Patricia Wentworth.
In the middle of all this there is a massive train crash: this serves no real purpose and has no lasting effects except to introduce two attractive young people to each other. In fact they don’t see each other (they are trapped in pitch black) so you think there is going to be some impersonation, or appearance issue, but no, not at all, literally nothing is made of this.
The most nervous beginner at creative writing class could have thought up a better way for them to meet.
So you settle in to enjoy this, but sadly it goes rather downhill in the second half. There is one obvious question about the murder victim and her brightly-coloured scarf: as no-one mentions it, you know it’s going to be part of the solution. And then – well there just aren’t that many people in the frame, and by the time you’ve knocked out the dead, the young lovers, and the general nice people (this is not a spoiler: there are two worthless young men, but it’s obvious that one is salvageable and the other isn’t) there aren’t going to be any great surprises in the revelation of the murderer.
But it was worth it for the knitted knickers, and for the very discomfiting image of Miss Silver being searched. (You can’t see that happening to Miss Marple. Mrs Bradley wouldn’t turn a hair, I imagine.)
As ever, Wentworth does a great job of describing everyone’s clothes throughout. She also uses a phrase which you don’t come across often:
he wouldn’t say Ina didn’t pay for dressing, every woman did‘Pay for dressing’ seems to mean something like ‘looks good in nice clothes’ or ‘gets a good return on clothes in terms of appearance’. Perhaps (gives) pay(back) for dressing. Lord Peter Wimsey’s mother says about Harriet Vane that she ‘would pay for really inspired dressing’ (and plainly doesn’t mean ‘she has a lot of money for good clothes’). It’s in a Philippa Gregory novel too:
“You do pay dressing,” Jenny said.And Angela Brazil from 1922:
‘If you haven’t thought about your clothes before it’s time you did. My dear, you’ll pay dressing.’I haven’t really got a handle on this expression (I don’t think I’m making this up), and am hoping that maybe Lucy Fisher can help me out – I feel she might know the phrase?
And thanks again to Vicki and Noah.
There was a similar search of the females - Alleyn looks as though he has his 'brain in his fingertips' and there is discussion of who wears stays - in this Ngaio Marsh book on the blog.
To find more Miss Silver on the blog click on the labels below.