Friday, January 23, 2015

Drowned in Deceit: The Watersplash (1951), by Patricia Wentworth

The village of Greenings lies about a mile and a half from the country town of Embank. Some day the town will swallow it up....But that day is not yet....The village is, in fact, extremely rural....But into the quietest back water a stone may fall, disquieting ripples may spread....

The Watersplash, published two years after Miss Silver Comes to Stay, the last Patricia Wentworth novel reviewed here, returns readers to the cozily criminous village milieu the author portrayed so often and so well in her 1940s and 1950s mystery fiction.

This time the village is Greenings, presided over by a bigwig family, the Randoms, and populated by assorted quaint and quirky characters. The genteel folk hang on, while the servant population, though diminished, hovers about. There are occasional references to the Labour party, but Lord Burlingham, the local Labour peer ("a self-made man" who "had run barefoot" as a boy, selling "papers in the streets") is a peripheral character (sympathetically presented).

Wentworth excels at portraying the women of this village: the distracted cat-lover Emmeline Random, living off her brother-in-law's grudging hospitality at the Hall's south lodge; the Misses Blake, hypochondriac Ora and acidulous Mildred; Mrs. Ball, the kindly vicar's wife and a daughter of one of those seemingly innumerable old school friends of Wentworth's series sleuth, Miss Silver; nice Susan Wayne, who left the village to work as a personal secretary for a Professor Postlethwaite after her aunt's death, but has returned to catalog the library at the Hall while the professor is visiting the US; and even old Mrs. Stone, who at vicarage sewing parties for displaced children surreptitiously slips into her "rather distressing work-bag" slices of Mrs. Ball's luscious fruitcake, to take to her own daughter, another village hypochondriac.

fatal phone call
Clarice Dean on Greenings'
"party line"
Of course there are ill deeds done in the novel, with two conflicting wills and two nasty murders, both drownings in the local watersplash (a ford over a stream). The first to die is a local ne'er-do-well and discharged servant, William Jackson, and the second pretty Clarice Dean, a designing young nurse, not native to the village (she's very accurately captured on the cover of the latest English edition of the novel; see right).

Into this troubling case comes Scotland Yard, in the person of "posh" Inspector Frank Abbott (a desk bound Chief Inspector Ernest Lamb makes only a brief appearance); but it is, of course, Miss Silver who saves the day when she comes to visit.

The mystery itself is fairly clued, so fairly, indeed, that I doubt it fools many readers. But is fooling readers what Wentworth really intended?  Or did she simply want to tell a good tale of mystery and murder?

The Watersplash is a suspenseful story, well-told, with a pleasing sense of people and place. It is also superbly classical, according to W. H. Auden's formulation, with, at the end, the magical figure of the Great Detective having cast out evil and restored order, so that nice lovers can love and the good and the just reign again over the village. As Frank Abbott says to his beloved Miss Silver:

You know, the Chief really does suspect you of at least white witchcraft.  I don't think it would surprise him if you were to fly out of the window on a broomstick.


  1. I think I read this years ago, but have absolutely no memory of it - and your précis of the cast and plot doesn't help because it would roughly fit many of her books! But nice review, and I like the way you bring out what is enjoyable about the books. I like to read one now and then, but wouldn't want to read them one after another.

    1. She repeats two specific elements from earlier books in this one (genteel woman dependent threatened with eviction from lodge, servant with legacy foolishly marrying younger man after her money), but I felt all the elements, recycled or not, fit together enjoyably, dare I say soothingly. I'm planning to look at one of her thrillers from the 1930s and see how much it differs from these 40s/50s village cozies.

    2. Incidentally, this makes my sixth Wentworth. The others are, in order read:

      Latter End
      The Chinese Shawl
      Miss Silver Deals with Death (Miss Silver Intervenes)
      Eternity Ring
      Miss Silver Comes to Stay
      The Watersplash

      My favorite still is Miss Silver Comes to Stay, which I put on my top 20 for last year. I also liked the other book with Miss Silver in the title, although the ending seemed confusing (though I now realize it links with some of her non-Silver books). Watersplash would be next. Didn't like the other three much.

  2. I read a few Miss Silver books when I was younger and I want to try some more now and see what I think. I do have this on the Kindle, so good to hear it is one that you like better.

  3. I find this list of miss silver books you have read very interesting; i hope you do this with each writer, as it helps me gauge which ones to look out for , although it must be said that i enjoyed the chinese shawl better than the other one i read (the listening eye).

    by the way i am now on my fourth george bellairs and find him a better read than may have been suggested. Maybe one for another day.

    1. I haven't written off Bellairs, though that one I reviewed on the blog was dire!