Patricia Wentworth was a British author who wrote over 30 detective novels between 1928 and 1961, featuring the character of Miss Maud Silver. Miss Silver is a retired governess who becomes a private detective and solves various crimes in England. The Miss Silver series is a classic example of cozy mysteries and has a loyal following among fans of the genre.
Beautiful and well-coiffed Lois Latter never turns a hair until she meets with local psychic Memnon to read her fortune. Memnon warns Lois Latter that poison is in her future. Unsettled, Lois meets for lunch with Antony Latter, cousin to her husband, Jimmy Latter, and her old beau, whom she refused to marry when he proposed two years ago. Despite finding Antony attractive, she knows she wants money, a grand house, and a good position in society. That doesn’t mean she won’t toy with Antony Latter’s feelings for fun.
After soothing her feelings at lunch with Antony, she goes home to Latter End to her adoring husband and his numerous poor relations that make up the household. Jimmy Latter’s step-sister Ellie Street lives in the house and is at Lois Latter’s beck and call. She cleans, dusts, arranges flowers, and waits on Lois like a housemaid. Ellie is overworked and overwrought between the housework and daily laborious visits to the convalescent home where her husband, Ronald Street, is recovering after the war. She resents Lois but is desperately trying to appease her so that she’ll allow Ronnie to move into Latter End to finish his recovery, but she knows that Lois will most likely refuse.
Ellie is joined in her misery by her mother’s old nurse Minnie who had stayed at the house “to take care of the girls” since Jimmy’s stepmother passed when they were young. With Ellie and her twin sister Julia now adults (they’re 24!), her presence is confusing to Lois. She is actively scheming to get her out of the house and posted as a ladies’ companion to another old woman in the village.
Lois’ scheming doesn’t just stop at family affairs, she’s hoping to get rid of the old staff that have been around since before her husband was born and replace them with new fresh faced young maids and cooks.
The household is obviously teeming with resentment and anger when Antony and Julia come down to Latter End to stay at Jimmy’s behest. While Julia tries to mitigate the strained relations without losing her infamous temper, she cannot get Jimmy to see that Lois is upsetting the household with her machinations. During Julia and Antony’s visit, Lois is taken ill with vomiting attacks, which last periodically over the next several weeks.
Jimmy Latter, who believes his wife is being poisoned, calls Miss Silver and asks her to stay at Latter End. Miss Silver states that given the animosity with the household staff, she is likely being given ipecac in her Turkish coffee- which she drinks- to punish her. Jimmy Latter begins taking a nightly cup of Turkish coffee with his wife, and the attacks stop.
On another visit to Latter End, Antony realizes that relations between Jimmy and Lois have cooled after Lois has lied to Jimmy that one of his tenant farmers would like to move in with his daughter-in-law and let the family sell the cottage, when in fact, she has made no such decision. Relations further deteriorate when Lois propositions Antony in his bedroom in the middle of the night, and Jimmy overhears. Antony, in love with Julia, hastily leaves Latter End after refusing Lois and laments it will probably be the last time he visits.
The following two days passed in tense silence until Lois Latter is found poisoned after she and Jimmy drink their cups of Turkish coffee. With motives aplenty, before her death, it is revealed that the privately wealthy Lois Latter left her vast fortune from her first husband to Jimmy Latter. Jimmy Latter, with many motives, desperately calls Miss Silver and begs her to solve the case before he is arrested for murdering his wife.
Latter End is pleasantly diverting, but the characters are shallowly drawn, with everyone but Lois being good and interloper Lois being evil. She is a schemer and an abuser, and I think her “love-bombing” of Jimmy makes her an exciting depiction of domestic abuse being perpetrated by a woman. She craves power and control and is a proper villain because she is true to life.
However, because Lois is so evil, everyone else has to be so, so very good. Throughout the investigation into Lois’ murder, there’s never any depiction of anyone acting morally grey. Miss Silver books are generally written so that the baddies get their just deserts, and everyone gets a happy ending- this formula or philosophy really hampers the story and makes the solution very obvious. Latter End isn’t a bad story, some elements echo Christie’s works, but Patricia Wentworth isn’t quite willing to agree that everyone can commit murder like Christie posits in her works.
I don’t have a lot of sympathy for Lois, but I do think she was clear that she wanted money and power for her husband, Jimmy; it was him that ultimately wanted her to fit herself into a close-knit pre-existing family structure with no real forethought about her character. He loved that a beautiful woman loved him and turned a blind eye to who she was as a person, but again, that is a brilliant rendering of what happens in actual life in fiction.
I recommend this book because it is a classic depiction of the psychological and emotional tools of love-bombing, isolating, and then abusing a partner. That’s probably not why most people read a mystery, and as a mystery, it’s pretty flat, with Miss Silver coming into the story during the third act. We read very little detective work, instead, long passages where the evidence is recounted to Miss Silver, and then she makes deductions. Overall, it’s not a great mystery and doesn’t add much to the Miss Silver canon, but if you like a good villain, this one is top-notch. A disappointing read.
Have you read Latter End? Do you think Lois was overly maligned or a woman who got what she deserved? Do you have a favorite Miss Silver mystery? If so, suggest it below. You can get a copy of Latter End from Amazon here.