Review: THE CHINESE SHAWL by Patricia Wentworth

thechineseshawlwentworthaudioThe worst kind of reading experience, for me anyway, is one that can be summed up with the word meh. I’d rather really hate a book than be left bored, unengaged and apathetic by one. Alas my introduction to the Miss Silver series was not nearly entertaining enough to engender hatred.

My selection for this month’s Crimes of the Century (focusing on the year 1943) started off with an explosion of names and relationships that I had to listen to four times before feeling like I could move into the actual story. I was reminded of the series of team building and leadership ‘experiences’ I was required to attend in the 90’s which always began with a room of 20-30 people telling each other their name and a ‘fun fact’ about themselves and us all then wasting time learning the favourite sock colour of people we would never meet again. I know everyone in a story has to be introduced but here there are thirteen characters shoehorned into the first 5 minutes of the audio book and all but one has at least one important familial connection that has to be remembered. We haven’t even gotten to the country house party at which Significant Events take place yet and I’m already bored keeping track of who’s who (and who’s related to who).

By the time we do get there, to the house party, another half-dozen or so players have joined the cast and what passes for a story starts to play out. Tanis Lyle is the central character of it. All the men are besotted with her. To the point of madness (or infidelity and a range of other immoral if not illegal acts) All the women her own age want to scratch her eyes out (because all the men love her and not them) (and also because she’s a right cow). Her two Aunts (there are no parents, can’t remember why) love her and spoil her rotten. Well they would because they’re crazy old spinsters, at least one of whom is still pining over some bloke who dumped her decades ago. When Tanis is murdered it’s a bloody slog to knock anyone off the suspect list but we spend about seven hours on the task.

The fact that any woman under 50 is a simpering idiot is probably the most eye-roll inducing thing about the book but there are more. Two of the women over that age are batshit crazy and the lone voice of female reason – series heroine Miss Maud Silver – is a highlight only by comparison with the rest of the sisterhood as represented here. The simpering, lovesick blokes are no better than the women. Most of them have faced a war (and have other much nicer women that love them to bits) but are made mental basket cases because one ‘not even beautiful’ woman passes them over.  Even the book’s title made my eyes roll as it gave too much prominence to an artefact of the story which made it blindingly obvious (to me at least) why the horrid Tanis was killed. I wasn’t as sure who did it but I truly didn’t care and all I felt when it was revealed was relief that the whole thing would be over soon.

I didn’t really spot anything about Miss Silver that would warrant another single outing let alone the 32 titles she’s featured in. I can’t even summon up enough interest to weigh in on the Marple vs Silver debate that seems to be argued, demurely of course, in some corners of the internet (truth be told I’m not a huge fan of Miss M either). She’s fairly typical of the ‘gifted amateur’ variety of crime solving sleuth but did not stand out in any way for me.

Or, as I put it more succinctly in the beginning, meh.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Narrator Diana Bishop
Publisher This edition Audible Studios 2014, original edition 1943
Length 8 hours 3 minutes
Format audio (mp3)
Book Series #6 in the Miss Silver series
Source of review copy I bought it

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9 Responses to Review: THE CHINESE SHAWL by Patricia Wentworth

  1. Never read this Miss Silver mystery, though that probably seems a good thing having read your review. I think with Wentworth’s books there are a lot of meh ones, punctuated with more surprisingly good ones. I also think some of her non-Miss Silver mysteries are more interesting and even a bit more experimental when it comes to narrative style. A Miss Silver mystery which was surprisingly good was The Key, which had a dead scientist in it – which is more out of the ordinary for these books.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the recommendations Kate…I will keep an eye out for a non-Miss Silver book of Wentworth’s. It looks like The Key was published in a year already covered in Crimes of the Century but I’ll see if I can find another reason to add it to my groaning TBR piles.

      Other people do seem to like this book – lots of raves on Good Reads anyway – so other opinions are available as always 🙂


  2. Margot Kinberg says:

    I had to chuckle when I read your description of team-building activities, Bernadette. I’ve had to cope with those things, too. And that’s an interesting comparison to the beginning of some novels, too. Sorry to hear you didn’t care all that much for this one. In my opinion, Miss Silver does come off better in other novels, but she is a certain sort of character, isn’t she? Well, now at least you can say you’ve read a Wentworth,even if it didn’t impress you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s always good to try new authors Margot – I might have been missing something wonderful. And having found out I’m not at least means I don’t need to add dozens more books to my wishlist 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. tracybham says:

    When I was younger, and that was a long time ago, I read a good number of the Miss Silver books, and the only complaint I remember having was that some seemed repetitive. I have a few now to read and I am wondering how much I am going to like them, based on this and other reviews. And I had also heard that they are variable.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hilarious, I love it when you take against a book. I haven’t read this one, but I do know that I disliked Miss Silver when I first read her. Years later I quite like to read one now and again – but I’m not arguing with any of your criticisms.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. kathy d. says:

    Haven’t read any of these books. I hate boring, too. Will not add this series to my TBR lists.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Carol says:

    I recently read The Case Is Closed and Lonesome Road, two Miss Silver books from the 1930’s. Both of them had some very good suspense, though the romance was sappy and sexist – but it was a different time. Try those if you want to give her another chance. Some suspenseful moments in the first one had me on the edge of my chair!

    Liked by 1 person

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