Friday’s Forgotten Book: Dead or Alive by Patricia Wentworth

Patricia Wentworth is turning out to be one of my pandemic comfort reads. There’s a certain predictability in the plots, and her writing style is soothing. Plot twists exist of course but none of them are shocking. Fortunately she was a prolific writer so I have a lot to work with. I’ve read nearly all of the Miss Silver stories and have begun to branch out into her other books.

In Dead or Alive (Lippincott, 1936) Bill Coverdale has returned to England after spending a year in South America for his engineering firm. He is looking forward to seeing Meg O’Hara, his long-time secret love who declined his offer of marriage for marriage to Robin O’Hara. The marriage was not a success and Meg had decided to leave when Robin, who worked for an unnamed covert agency, disappeared, presumably on a mission gone wrong. A body was later identified as being unquestionably his. Bill is elated that Meg is free again and hopes that she will see her way to marrying him now.

He finds that Meg is nearly destitute and is being tormented by messages that say her husband is still alive. She is in a state of indecision, not knowing what her status is and distraught over the messages. Her wealthy uncle, who raised her, has retired to the country to finish his latest book and his new secretary is afraid to let Meg disturb him so an obvious source of money seems to be closed. Bill sees his job as to obtain enough proof that Meg will be convinced her husband is dead and to find out who is pestering her.

People who are thought to be dead but come back home after all are a recurring theme in Wentworth’s plots. It crops up more than once in the Miss Silver stories, although not as often as amnesia does. This particular book doesn’t exploit the trope as completely as it could have been. Meg comes off as wimpish and I had to wonder about Bill’s wisdom in fixating on her. While finding someone has been in a locked home is enough to upset anyone, locks can be changed easily enough and I wondered why she didn’t. The perpetrator was a bit of a surprise and there’s some good action toward the end as Bill and Meg seek to extricate themselves from what appears to be certain death, so the book isn’t a complete waste of time. I don’t expect to want to re-read it any time soon, however. For readers who want to consume every single Wentworth.

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