The Brading Collection by Patricia Wentworth

 
published 1950


 
Brading collection 3

[Three separate extracts, featuring three different characters and their clothes]

...She wore a printed linen dress in shades of grey and blue, and nothing on her head except a good deal of really pretty brown hair. Brown hair can be very pretty indeed. Stacy’s had lights in it and glints, and it curled because it was curly. It was, in fact, her one undeniable beauty.


 
Brading collection 2


...Lady Minstrell went off with a book into the garden. It would be nice in that old summerhouse up the hill. Her favourite place, that was. You could see over the sea for miles and a nice cool breeze off the water. The white dress with its large black spots went out of the shaded hall and took the bright glare of the sun outside. Very good clothes Lady Minstrell had – kind of quiet but with a sort of look about them you never got unless you paid the earth.







Brading Collection 5
...However hot it was, she would have to wear her black coat and skirt, because she had nothing else that would be suitable. Fortunately it wasn’t very thick, but it was wool – and in this weather! But she would have to wear it – and at the inquest too… The room would be crowded, and everyone would be looking at her. The black coat and skirt was becoming. It threw up her fair hair. She could wear the little black hat which hardly hid it at all – just that flattering tilt over the eyes, and the scrap of veil to soften the brim. She had a comforting picture of herself standing there, rather pathetically slim and fair, doing her best to be brave.


commentary: I read this book because of the clothes: my friend Daniel Milford Cottam recommended it because of the three page section where an employee, Edna, mulls over all the outfits of the women as they pass her (as in the second excerpt above). It is indeed a tour de force of clothes descriptions and I could easily have done four or five entries. Daniel was commenting on my entry on Miss Silver Intervenes (woollen vests) – and I said then that as I read through Wentworth’s oeuvre I will be ‘looking for pics of nice supper frocks for entries till the end of time’. I’m sure there will be plenty more…

Anyway, the crime content of the book: it is splendid stuff, I really enjoyed this one, much more than the recently-read Benevent Treasure from a few years later. There is a not-very-nice man who likes to have a hold over people, and who also owns a priceless collection of jewels, held in a secure annexe. There are various women in lovely 1950 clothes, and there’s a divorced couple forced into proximity. Someone is shot, and just about everyone has a motive, though the opportunities are harder to work out – Edna is counting them all out and counting them all back. (But an experienced crime reader won’t have too much difficulty.)

Early on we visit Miss Silver’s flat, and look at the photographs scattered around:
The photographs were for the most part quite modern pictures of babies…Every photograph was an offering of gratitude from someone who stood in safety or lived in happiness and contentment because Miss Maud Silver had fought a successful battle for justice. If the battle had been lost, most of these babies would never have been born.
I amused myself by contrasting that with Miss Marple (who on the surface can seem comparable with Miss Silver) – far too prone to finding solutions that blow apart families and couples, with little sympathy for, or interest in, those left behind. The lost boyfriends, the conmen, the dead maids – no lovely pictures of them, and no offspring to come.

Miss Silver is made of gentler stuff, and very enjoyable it is too in its own way.

Spotted dress from Kristine. Print dress same source.

Black outfit, Dior, 1952 . The bereaved woman’s consideration of her black outfit is very similar to that in another Wentworth book, Poison in the Pen: the scene features in the blogpost here.















Comments

  1. Really interesting comparison between Miss Marple and Miss Silver, Moira. They only seem similar on the surface.. I like the setup and context for this mystery, too, very much. And oh, the clothes! I can see how you'd have what you need for several posts. All in all, a solid Miss Silver outing, and I'm glad you liked it.

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    1. Yes, definitely one of the better ones, and of course right up my street.

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  2. I remain thoroughly unconvinced about the Silver books, but I think if I were to try again, this is the one I would go for - can't say fairer than that, now can I?

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    1. Very fair! I can see she can be quite off-putting, and I didn't read her for years. Maybe in my old age I need something calm and predictable. You may not be at that stage yet...

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  3. Nice to be told that brown hair is pretty! Subtext: don't bleach? There's a very minor character in Destination Unknown who tho plain has "made the most of herself" with bleach and a lot of makeup. The formula clearly works but she plays no part in the story. Shame.

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    1. No recollection of that (long time since I read that one) but that is intriguing... Normally bleach in Christie is at best neutral, but probably not good.

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  4. I am ensconced (buried, stuck, flummoxed?) in my first Miss Silver mystery as we speak, Moira, so I will have something to say about that in the near future . . .

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    1. Will be looking forward to that, I am intrigued to know what you think of her, and how she will match up to Christie/Marple in your eyes.

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  5. I think it's probably the most clothes-heavy one I've read, at least where all the dress descriptions begin to distract a bit because there are SO many!!

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    1. I'd agree - it has the most in any I've read too. But I loved it, it made the book for me...

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  6. Moira, I admit it's a shame I haven't read any of Wwentworth's ebooks sent to me by a publisher. Maybe I'll surprise you one of these days!

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    1. We'll be waiting to hear what you make of them Prashant.

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  7. Moira, my favourite Miss Silver is The Gazebo. There are some lovely insights into that era - particularly one where Althea is contemplating buying a 'brightening rinse' for herself and her overbearing mother. She says to the hairdresser, 'It isn't a dye, is it?' and the hairdresser says, 'Oh no.'

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    1. Thanks, definitely going to read that one. In fact, hairdressing & colouring is a great topic, I haven't done it much on the blog but it is full of possibilities for character and implications, as you say...

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  8. If you do, you must include that brilliant epigram in The Importance of Being Ernest, "I hear her hair turned quite gold with grief" and there's a lovely bit in The Diary of a Nobody where Pooter is remarking on his son's new paramour and Carrie (his wife) who has been defending her, after a comment on suspiciously dark eyebrows, says "I didn't say she was a NICE woman."

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    1. Oh great tips - I'm starting to make a list...

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    2. It's been a LONG time since I read Diary of a Nobody so I may be getting my memories of it a little mixed up. But definitely do remember mentions of suspect hair colour...

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    3. It rings a bell with me too - don't worry, I'll find it!

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    4. "Gold with Grief" is a BRILLIANT title for a whodunit, btw. I must remember that.

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    5. Oh, Wilde reused the joke from The Picture of Dorian Gray!!

      '"She is still decolletee," he answered, taking an olive in his long fingers; "and when she is in a very smart gown she looks like an edition de luxe of a bad French novel. She is really wonderful, and full of surprises. Her capacity for family affection is extraordinary. When her third husband died, her hair turned quite gold from grief."'

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    6. If you have a phrase that good of course you would want to recycle. And yes - what a book title.

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  9. Miss Marple has less in common with Miss Silver and the other 'Little Old Lady Detectives' and a lot more with Mike Hammer and the main character in DEATH WISH. She is rather ruthless in her pursuit of justice. You see Holmes and Poirot allowing killers to go free, but Miss M would never compromise her standards in such a way. I can still recall the end of A POCKETFUL OF RYE, where her momentary sorrow about the loss of innocent life is quickly superceded by a cold-hearted scientific pleasure that she has found the proof that will allow her to send the murderer to the gallows.

    ggary

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    1. Oh I love that! Miss Marple and Mike Hammer. Perfect. And yes, she was ruthless and could be callous. Justice personified.

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    1. The Tinder app would probably not match up you and Miss Silver.

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  11. I'm sure Maudie would knit him up a nice little spencer....

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    1. I think you are right. She would also give him a sharp look over her spectacles, and then some rather delicate coughs.

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  12. I keep putting the Miss Silver books on the sideline. Someday I will get to one. I will have to remember this title since you liked it so well.

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    1. One of these days! perhaps you might also think about one of the WW2-set books, as you like that period in books? I very much liked a wartime one called Miss Silver Intervenes (not a helpful title for remembering subject matter!)

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    2. I will make a not of Miss Silver Intervenes. I have The Chinese Shawl also from 1943; do you know of it? I also have Spotlight (Wicked Uncle in my edition) and Poison in the Pen, which you have reviewed.

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    3. Someone (Brad? Kate?) reviewed Chinese Shawl recently, and not that favourably, I was trying to remember if I'd read it or not and couldn't decide. Not recently, anyway!

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    4. Chinese Shawl was the first one I read. Over ten years ago, as I'm sure it was in Reading, where I was at Uni. I don't remember it too well, though....

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    5. I expect I will get to them all eventually, and Chinese Shawl has always appealed because, well, because I may have to find a picture of a Chinese shawl...

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