Patricia Wentworth (1877 –1961)

51z WKx-6yL._SY200_Patricia Wentworth was born Dora Amy Elles in Mussoorie, India in 1878 [according to other sources she was born in 1877, not in 1878 as has sometimes been stated]. She was the daughter of a British army officer. She received a high school education at Blackheath High School in London where she and her two brothers were sent to live with her grandmother. After her graduation, she returned to India. She published her first work in the Civil and Military Gazette there. She married Colonel George Dillon in 1906. He died shortly after and left her with a young daughter and three stepsons. She and her children returned to England. She began writing and published six historical fiction novels between 1910 and 1915. In 1920, she married Lieutenant George Oliver Turnbull and moved to Surrey. He encouraged her writing and acted as a scribe for the novels which she dictated to him. Wentworth wrote her first mystery novel The Astonishing Adventure of Jane Smith in 1923. Her first Maud Silver book, Grey Mask was written in 1928. Nine years and fifteen mystery novels later, she returned to Maud Silver, who became her most popular character. Ms. Wentworth wrote over seventy novels. She died on January 28, 1961.

Maud Silver is perhaps Ms. Wentworth’s best known character, and there are 32 Miss Silver novels. Maud Silver, a spinster, retired from her position as a governess and opened a private detective agency. She is quite efficient, and seems to know a great number of people, especially those in the police. She starts a new notebook for each case, and is always knitting garments for her nieces and nephews. Her clients are usually from the upper classes. Wentworth’s novels are definitely cozy, and are frequently set in English villages. Miss Silver was so popular in the US during the 1940’s that Lippincott of Philadelphia became her primary publisher and released the Miss Silver novels in the US before their release in England. Patricia Wentworth’s other characters include Ernest Lamb, a chief investigator who sometimes works with Miss Silver, and Randal March, the chief constable of the county where many of Miss Silver’s cases occur. (Source:

A comprehensive bibliography is available here.

To be honest I must admit that the only book by Patricia Wentworth I have read, here, was not precisesly of my liking. Consequently, I was hesitant whether to include her or not on my list. But I changed my mind after having a look at what Curtis Evans wrote at The Passing Tramp about Patricia Wentworth. Thus, I’ll give her another try.

There is no doubt in my mind that Wentworth is a notable figure in mystery genre history precisely for popularizing–indeed, I would say, playing a huge role in originating the very popular conception of–the cozy detective novel.  Beginning in 1943, when she published The Chinese Shawl and Miss Silver Deals with Death, Wentworth over fifteen years published more than two dozen Miss Silver mysteries, most of them, I believe, true detective novels and all of them “cozy,” set in genteel milieus where the social order is disturbed but restored at the end …… (The Passing Tramp)


(Facsimile Dust Jacket, J. B. Lippincott Company (USA), 1949)

James Cray was always a cruel man . . .
When he was 21 James Lessiter told Henrietta Cray that he loved her before all things and so broke Catherine Lee’s heart. But James has a side to him that most people do not see. When the engagement is broken off no one is sure why and Rietta refuses to explain.
Twenty years later James returns to the village an extremely wealthy man. Rietta is still unmarried and Catherine is a penniless widow living in a cottage on the Lessiter estate.
Trouble is inevitable, for Catherine has started to sell some of the valuable contents of the cottage to keep up a lifestyle she cannot afford but James has his suspicions and is looking forward to exposing her. He has always enjoyed seeing someone else suffer whatever the cost. (Source: Hodder & Stoughton).

3 thoughts on “Patricia Wentworth (1877 –1961)”

  1. “Genteel milieus where the social order is disturbed but restored at the end” – what do people expect? Lugg and Bunter burning down the Houses of Parliament? Peter and Harriet deciding to live openly in sin? (Come to think, she suggests it herself.)

  2. Jose Ignacio, the Miss Silver books are a favorite of mine, and I do hope you will try more of them. They are variable but I find that most authors do vary over time.

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