The Brading Collection (Patricia Wentworth)

  • By Patricia Wentworth
  • First published: US: Lippincott, 1950; UK: Hodder & Stoughton, 1952; also published as Mr. Brading’s Collection, Severn House, 1987

Lewis Brading collects jewels with criminal associations, and it seems someone with criminal tendencies is after the jewels. He calls on Miss Silver, Wentworth’s ex-governess private detective, but Miss Silver refuses to take his case. A fortnight later, Brading is shot dead in the laboratory of his former home, now a country club.

In many ways, this is the epitome of the average detective story. How many of these elements have you come across in another novel?

  • The wealthy man murdered the day he makes a new will
  • The will missing, presumed burnt
  • The wealthy man murdered after he announced his engagement
  • Half-a-dozen people on the scene of the crime
  • The lovers separated by misunderstanding (one the main suspect, the other the girl who loves him but doesn’t trust him)
  • Stolen jewels
  • The kleptomaniac
  • The secretary blackmail victim, secretly married
  • The wrong time of death
  • The faked telephone call
  • The convenient suicide.

One would think the detective story hadn’t advanced since Carolyn Wells. At least Wentworth puts flesh on these old bones; she may be a lady waltzer, but she is an elegant one. Her style is better than Wells’s, and her characters live and breathe. I was particularly taken with the ex-variety artist Myra Constantine, a splendidly earthy, extroverted character, vulgar and unabashed.

But I have rarely read a detective story where whodunnit was more obvious; the even moderately awake reader should spot the murderer in Chapter 15 – before the body has even been found. The idea is Agatha Christieish: the hidden alibi, the criminal couple, the “deceit” in plain view – but it doesn’t deceive for an instant. Wentworth’s audience seems to have been middle-aged ladies in lending libraries; like a television murder mystery, perhaps she gave them comforting familiarity, and made her problems easy so they would feel clever.

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