Daily Archives: May 9, 2012

Vintage mysteries: Unhappy New Year

Review: The Clock Strikes Twelve
by Patricia Wentworth

A keeper? Not her best, but good enough

Some people throw wonderful New Years’ Eve parties. On the other hand, there’s James Paradine.

It’s the end of 1942, and he’s gathered the whole family – including his niece Phyllida’s estranged husband – for a very special dinner. James has an announcement to make: someone has betrayed The Family, and James knows who it is. He intends to sit alone in his study until midnight to give the guilty person a chance to come and confess.

Someone comes, but not to confess. Next morning the butler finds James Paradine cold and dead and thrown over the edge of a balcony onto rocks. Who did it? Hard to say, when so many people could have a motive. There’s the person who stole the gun sight blueprints (that theft is what James was upset about). There’s the person who has been replacing his late wife’s diamonds with fakes. There’s his nephew Mark, who’s in line to inherit the family business and most of the family money. There might be Phyllida’s husband, if he’s angry enough about being kept away from Phyllida – or there might be his sister Grace, who adopted Phyllida years ago and means to make sure she’s the only person Phyllida loves. Or could it be his stepson Frank Ambrose? Frank had a German grandmother – is he spying for the Nazis? And there are four or five other relatives who could have grudges about this or that. The police are doing their best, but will it be good enough?

Mark Paradine hires Miss Silver, the brilliant spinster detective who, as usual, settles quietly into the household and waits and watches and chats and knits. (Miss Silver always knits. This time, she’s knitting an amazingly ugly dark gray and emerald green outfit for her niece’s toddler. In fairness to Miss Silver, wartime rationing left her with no chance to pick prettier colors.) Anyway, after just a couple of days, she points the police toward the right person. As always, there’s a happy ending (well, as happy as possible allowing for recent deaths in the family) for the deserving young lovers.

This isn’t one of Patricia Wentworth’s liveliest stories, but the mystery is well handled and the mixed motives are nicely traced out. (One of the problems, I think, is that we’re expected to split our concern between two star-crossed young couples. Instead of ratcheting up the level of worry over them all, this trick dilutes our interest.) Worth reading for Wentworth fans, but probably not the best Miss Silver story to begin with.