After four years away Charles returns to his childhood home only to find a secret meeting of a criminal society taking place there. The worst part is that the woman he was engaged to, and the reason for his leaving, is mixed up in it. But who are these people and who is it they're planning on "removing"? And how did Margaret get mixed up with them? Charles will need the help of Miss Maud Silver to find out.
Grey Mask isn't a new novel, it was originally published in 1928 and is the first in Wentworth's series of whodunit mysteries featuring Miss Silver as the amateur sleuth. It's easy to start comparing Miss Silver to Christie's Miss Marple, after all they're both elderly spinsters solving crimes in England in the best traditions of cozy mystery, but that's where the similarities end.
There's more energy to Wentworth's writing, you get to know her characters' quirks and she does a great job of getting to the bottom of people in dialogue. The point of view changes every once in a while and this not only makes the narrative more multi-dimensional but also gives the story a greater degree of intimacy - we actually know first-hand what different characters are doing and how they think and feel about the latest events instead of someone sitting us down at the end and telling us about it in the "great reveal" sort of way. I really enjoyed learning things gradually and having the satisfaction of discovering the identities of minor players as the story progressed. It was also great fun to read Grey Mask because while I figured out part of the mystery from the very beginning there were a number of secrets the answers to which caught me completely off guard. Oh, and there was mortal danger. And people fell in love. And I laughed out loud more than once.
A couple of things threw me off balance in the beginning of the book. One is the language. It is often very specific to the time period, some expressions I wasn't familiar with at all and it took me a bit to figure out what was actually being said. This tends to date the writing but if you're ready for it it's not that big of a deal. Another was that Chapter 2 introduces all kinds of villains but with so little description of them that several chapters later I felt like I missed something and had to go back and make sure that I didn't. Once the "character dump" was over I was able to enjoy the book without any discomfort. And the third thing, now that I'm thinking about it, is how much Miss Silver managed to accomplish in a short amount of time - she actually has an office where she sees potential clients but she also was personally present for all kinds of significant events. The little lady must've been in possession of a time machine! Or she's cloned herself. Wait, that's a different genre.
All in all this is a very enjoyable book that I'm sure will entertain lovers of cozy mysteries who are looking for a bit of light reading.
This book was obtained from the publisher, Open Road, via NetGalley