Miss Maud Silver
Created by Patricia Wentworth (pseudonym for Dora Amy Elles; 1878-1961)
Here's one that's probably not going to be confused with the hardboiled school of private eyes. The redoubtable MISS MAUD SILVER is a spinster private investigator in London, England, specializing in thefts and forgeries of fine art works, who is so cozy she actually knits. Definitely a little quirky, and she may knit, but the resemblance to Agatha Christie's Jane Marple ends there.
Maud's definitely a professional. And none of that "Oh, I'm just a wooly-headed female" schtick of Miss Marple.
The no-nonsense Miss Silver is a retired schoolteacher, looking forward to nothing more than a quiet retirement on a rather meagre pension, when she finds herself, through a series of incidents, the proud possessor of a home, a housekeeper, and a whole new profession. She becomes a private detective, although she prefers to be called a private enquiry agent (a title much more appropriate to a gentlewoman, she feels). A small woman, prim, polite, with a habit of quoting the Bible or perhaps the poetry of Lord Tennyson, Miss Silver lives by a simple code: "Love God, honour the Queen, keep the law, be kind, be good, think of others before you think of yourself, serve Justice, speak the truth."
Because she appears so harmless, she's a whiz at undercover work, and is particularly adept at infiltrating the troubled households of the upper classes, much to the chagrin of Scotland Yard's Chief Inspector Lamb, who was often called in at the end to make the arrests. But another detective, Inspector Abbott, actually had great admiration for Miss Silver. They often went to each other for help, and had in fact known each other for years. Another police officer whom she often counted on was Randal Marsh, eventually Chief Constable, whose ties to Miss Silver went even further back -- she had once been his governess.
Miss Silver premiered in Grey Mask in 1928 as a minor character and made her full-fledged as the main protagonist in The Case is Closed in 1937. Wentworth herself describes her as having "small, neat features and the sort of old-fashioned clothes that were not so much dowdy as characteristic" in her final book, The Girl in the Cellar.
Lighter reading, and populated with mostly female characters (and of course the star-crossed young lovers whose romance was endangered until Miss Silver saves the day), this series became so popular in the United States that this British author's primary publisher was in Philadelphia.
Wentworth was born in India (then the British Raj), and was educated privately and at the presigious Blackheath High School in London. After the death of her first husband in 1906, she settled in Camberley, Surrey. Her first novel, A Marriage Under The Terror, set in the French Revolution, won the Melrose prize in 1910, and she went on to write 32 novels featuring Miss Silver, as well as 34 other novels, many mysteries, including a few non-Silver books featuring her pal, Inspector Lamb. She married George Oliver Turnbull in 1920 and they had one daughter.
-- D.L. Browne
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