Friday, February 25, 2022

The Executor & Classic Crime: Patricia Wentworth's "Ladies' Bane"


This morning I woke up with a headache.  For weeks, I have awakened with a headache.  Every day I wonder,  When will this experience with the executor of my relative's estate end?  Did the executor technically embezzle?  At the very least, he was unethical.  But this isn't Bleak House, or a reenactment of Jarndyce v Jarndyce, and John Jarndyce taught me the perils of litigation. At some point, you walk away. 

For several months, the executor has peppered us with  disorganized e-mails, in which he/she has misrepresented and underestimated the value of my relatives' assets. He/she informed me of only one-third of the assets -  and lowballed the value of that third.  So I was astonished to receive a legal document this week that listed all the assets and their value.  These were concealed from us, for no apparent reason.

Some of the e-mails seemed so ditzy that, if I were a mystery writer, I'd regard it as a deliberate cover for dishonesty.   But perhaps he/she is just a ditz?  Behind our backs, this executor contacted a person who had been DISINHERITED IN THE  WILL and offered him money or property. Fortunately, that person declined.  But this was definitely a breach of ethics, on the executor's part, if not positively illegal.

Okay, we're done.  We expressed our concerns. Some things were corrected.

What I've learned:  Don't deal with the devil: it's cheaper to hire a lawyer!  

MY GREAT ESCAPE FROM  REALITY has been reading classic crime, or what we Americans call cozy mysteries.


Yes, I needed distraction, so I read Ladies' Bane by Patricia Wentworth, the prolific author of the Miss Silver mystery series.  Miss Silver, an amateur detective, is the stereotypical old woman who looks harmless, knits constantly, has good manners, talks easily to people. and is more observant than the average policeman.  She is similar to Miss Marple, but I prefer Patricia Wentworth's more complex writing to Agatha Christie's clever puzzles. 

Though Ladies' Bane gets off to a slow start, I found it riveting.  It begins with a wealthy young woman, Ione Muir, getting lost in a London fog.  She overhears a whispering person -she cannot tell if it is male or female - attempt to hire a Scotsman to commit a murder.  This conversation comes back to haunt her when she recognizes the voice of the Scotsman in the town of Bleake, where she is visiting her sister, Allegra, at Ladies' Bane, a gloomy old house with secret passages and spy holes.  

The visit starts badly.  Ione is surprised to find Allegra strangely quiet and seemingly indifferent to everything around her.  She discovers Allegra has become a drug addict, but is being treated by a doctor who is slowly weaning her off the drug.  Allegra's husband, the charming, much too good-looking Geoffrey, is concerned about his wife but is obsessed with buying Ladies' Bane, and he has tried in vain to free up Allegra's trust fund so he can do so.   

There are other inmates who make the house uncomfortable, among them  Jacqueline, a former secretary who has a crush on Geoffrey and is now the nurse of Geoffrey's mentally handicapped ward, Margot.   Margot loves practical jokes. and is found dead one afternoon after she attempted a dangerous trick with a rotten rope. Then there is an incident on a traffic island where someone pushes Ione and Allegra, and Allegra is almost hit by a car.  At that point, Allegra's godmother hires Miss Silver to investigate.  Was Margot's death a murder?    Miss Silver helps her friends at Scotland Yard solve the case.

A very traditional mystery, but a great read.

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