This week Karen and Simon are hosting 1929 Club, the latest of their biannual events where we all read and write about books published in the same year. 1929 turns out to have been a particularly great year for publishing, with lots of tempting titles to choose from, but I decided to start with a book by an author I had never read but had been intending to try for a long time.
Patricia Wentworth is better known for her Miss Silver mystery series, but Fool Errant is the first of four novels featuring a different crime-solving character – Benbow Collingwood Horatio Smith. Named after three famous British admirals, the mysterious Mr Smith lives in London with his very talkative parrot, Ananias, and carries out some sort of espionage work for the Foreign Office. We learn little more than that about him in this book – in fact, he only makes two or three brief appearances and remains an eccentric, shadowy character in the background.
The novel opens with a nervous, stammering young man, Hugo Ross, arriving at Meade House, the home of the inventor Ambrose Minstrel. He is hoping to apply for the position of secretary and is surprised when Minstrel immediately offers him the job despite his lack of qualifications and experience. Before he even starts work, however, he has an encounter with a young woman in the street who is running away from home to avoid marriage with a distant cousin. When she hears that Hugo is planning to join Minstrel’s household, she is horrified and advises him to leave at once, but rushes off to catch her train before Hugo can ask for an explanation.
Taking up his new position as Minstrel’s secretary, Hugo soon begins to feel that something is not quite right at Meade House. Following a series of strange occurrences – and another warning from the young woman, whose name he discovers to be Loveday Leigh – Hugo decides to consult his brother-in-law’s uncle, Benbow Smith. It seems that he has stumbled upon a plot that could have serious implications for the government – and for his own safety if Minstrel finds out that he has guessed the truth. With the help of Smith and Loveday, Hugo must try to foil the plot while convincing Minstrel and his accomplices that he really is the timid, gullible idiot they believe him to be.
Fool Errant turned out to be a good choice for my first Patricia Wentworth novel; I expect it’s quite different from the Miss Silver books, being much more of a thriller than a mystery, but it was fun to read and the exciting plot kept me turning the pages. My only real problem was with the ridiculous characterisation of Loveday Leigh who, although she saves the day on one or two occasions, behaves like a child, is unable to have a serious conversation and expects kisses at the most inappropriate moments. Women like Loveday are quite common in books from that era, of course, but she has to be one of the worst I’ve come across!
This probably isn’t a book I’ll want to read again, but I did enjoy it and will look forward to reading the other three Benbow Smith novels…eventually!
Other 1929 books previously reviewed on my blog:
A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
Beauvallet by Georgette Heyer
Dickon by Marjorie Bowen
Partners in Crime by Agatha Christie
This is also book #6 read for R.I.P. XVII
25 thoughts on “Fool Errant by Patricia Wentworth – #1929Club”
The jokey names – though I do know that people of a certain class have eccentric monikers – seem to suggest that Ms Wentworth, despite her serious theme, may have her tongue firmly in her cheek. I may be wrong, of course, but it doesn’t encourage me to take her work absolutely seriously?
I found it quite entertaining, but no, it’s definitely not a book to be taken too seriously!
This sounds like a good holiday read?
Yes, it’s perfect escapism.
Sounds very entertaining and a great choice for 1929. I confess to having not read any Wentworth mysteries, thought I suspect that I would have found Loveday Leigh very annoying…
It was an entertaining read but Loveday was awful! I’m hoping the heroines of Wentworth’s other books will be less annoying.
This sounds like such fun. I haven’t read very many Miss Silver books but I certainly enjoyed my standalone Patricia Wentworth reads much more. Fool Errant is on my TBR but I’m not sure I’ll get to it this week.
I hope you enjoy this book whenever you get to it. I would still like to try the Miss Silver books and will be interested to see how they compare to this one.
Sounds really fun! I haven’t read any of her books, though this does sound lovely – if Loveday Leigh isn’t TOO appalling to spend time with…
I’m planning to try more of Wentworth’s books, so I hope Loveday isn’t typical of her female characters!
Good review! I’ve never heard of this author but now I’m intrigued.
She was very prolific! I’m looking forward to reading more of her books.
I’ve only read one of her standalone thrillers, The Black Cabinet, and a couple of Miss Silvers, but I think I enjoyed the thriller more overall – more of a sense of fun, and that one had a great heroine!
I’m pleased to hear The Black Cabinet has a great heroine. I hope that means Loveday Leigh was a one-off!
I have Fool Errant on my #1929club reading list. 🙂 Loveday Leigh sounds like an interesting character – expects kisses at the most inappropriate moments – well, I am curious. Haha!
I’ll be interested to know what you think of this book. I hope you don’t find Loveday as annoying as I did!
This one does sound like a fun read. (I think my last comment disappeared into internet limbo, so I’m trying again.)
Yes, it was a lot of fun. I can’t find your first comment, so I’m glad it worked the second time!
Haven’t read any of this author’s books yet but I’ll probably avoid Fool Errant and choose one of her standalones. 🙂
I only picked this book because I was looking for something published in 1929. It was entertaining, but probably wasn’t the best one to start with!
I’m sure the book wasn’t meant to be funny, but your paragraph about Loveday Leigh made me laugh. Sounds like a good, silly romp.
Loveday was so annoying! I couldn’t take her seriously. The book itself was fun, though.
I read but didn’t get a chance to review this yet. Loveday is extremely annoying and it puzzles me that Wentworth has several such drippy heroines. Usually, even if they are ingenues, her heroines are fierce and outspoken. This series of four books is a bit disappointing.
I enjoyed it enough to want to read more of Wentworth’s books, so it wasn’t a bad starting point for me, but I’m looking forward to trying some of her others. I’m pleased to hear her heroines are usually better than Loveday – she was so irritating!