Outrageous Fortune by Patricia Wentworth – a Golden Age Gem
This Golden Age Mystery, originally published in 1933, now reprinted by the excellent Dean Street Press, is quite simply a splendid mystery. It is one of the best representations of women as actual characters in a crime novel I have read for a while, despite the slight tendency for them to overdose on the romantic elements. It is however the women of this novel who push forward the action at every turn, and provide the comic relief when things get very heavy. There is no “Miss Silver” to be found in this Wentworth novel, and no real detective; despite this the action is gripping as the main male character, Jim, tries to clear his memory and name. It is unusual, as there is a shortage of details of the crime, but this works as the protagonists attempt to achieve their desires and sort out a very confused and foggy picture.
The novel opens in a small hospital where a mystery man lies muttering about green beads and seems to have totally lost his memory of who he is and how he got there. He is quickly claimed by a woman called Nesta, who states that he is her husband, and she bears him off to be looked after by Tom, her brother, and his wife Min. As Jim regains full consciousness, he is amazed to discover that he is apparently married and the only person to know the whereabouts of a priceless emerald necklace, removed when its owner, Elmer Van Berg was shot. A local man, he is discovered by his younger cousin Caroline who has always idolised him, and who is determined to help him solve the riddle of his imperfect memory. Incidentally, she lives with Pansy Ann, who provides an innocent diversion to the main story with her romantic life. The characters move around finding more clues to what actually happened, and this interesting, seemingly impossible situation is finally resolved.
There are sometimes when a well written mystery novel really is really addictive and enjoyable, and this one fits the bill well. Its unusual premise does require a certain suspension of disbelief at times, but the characters are well drawn in terms of a mystery novel of the period, and I enjoyed even those who utter dire threats and seem determined to gain their own ends. Both the misguided and the misinformed have their roles to play, and there are several classic elements of secrets and foggy memory which are brought into play here. Dean Street Press have found some real gems of this period and reprinted them to great effect. I was really pleased to receive a review copy of this book, and found it to be a really good read with few pretentions except to be an enjoyable mystery with no gore or disturbance but a really well worked out story. For those who enjoy Golden Age Mysteries, especially those looking for a book where the female characters are not in the background, I can thoroughly recommend this novel.
I have been quite quiet here for the last week as Guests and Book Sale have rather dominated life. I have also been manufacturing bunting (well, helping,) and writing invitations. I returned from said Book Sale with a box of books, but some were for Northernvicar and a young friend, honestly! I was most excited to get a copy of “Letters of Note”, the large hardback edition, which I have looked at for some time. It is not a book to read from cover to cover but a lovely book to dip into, so watch this space for future quotes…