Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Penelope Passes or Why Did She Die?

She is all right. I've met her before. She is not as flighty as you would think. She has quite a shrewd head if you can get at it--and a heart of gold, as a matter of fact. 
~Mr. Borden, private detective

Lady Lupin, the not-as-flighty-as-she-seems wife of the vicar of Glanville, may never get her quotes right, but she always gets her man when she finds herself landed in the middle of a mystery. Which she does quite often despite being the vicar's wife in a sleepy little British village.

There must be something queer about me, like those people in Greek tragedies. The minute I arrive upon the scene everyone cries, "Let's have a murder."

She and her husband, the Reverend Andrew Hastings come to the village of Much Lancing so Andrew can preach on Trinity Sunday at the request of Lancelot Baker, the vicar. The Hastings stay at the home of Dick and Betty Stevenson and Lupin soon becomes friends with the young new mother. They also meet Dick's sister, Penelope who is held up by the village as one of the most noble, self-sacrificing women they have ever known. Penelope famously gave up her shot at happiness to look after her widowed father and younger brother when their mother died. Everyone agrees what a sweet, saintly person she is. 

Then her father dies and it looks like Penelope can have her happiness after all--because the man she would have married returns to the village six months later, is now a widower himself, and everyone is just certain he'll ask her to marry him again. But after she and Colonel Charles Graeme go to the garden for a private chat, Penelope is found shot to death and Col. Graeme is nowhere to be found. The scene looks remarkably like suicide--perhaps Graeme didn't propose after all and Penelope shot herself in despair....But if that's the case, why are there no fingerprints on the revolver?

Lupin is invited back to Much Lancing to be with Betty and when both Dick and Betty confess to the murder, she dives into the investigation--not because she's so set on capturing the guilty party, but because she wants to prove the young people innocent. In fact, truth be told Lupin never cared for Penelope and feels enough sympathy with the murderer that if she or he will just confess, the unlikely vicar's wife would be more than happy to let them get away.

Coggin displays a deft comic touch that nevertheless shines a spotlight on how truly awful false modesty and faux selflessness really can be. She shows us what a particularly disagreeable person Penelope is and soon we come to realize that few people really admired her after all. In fact, when you sit down and think about it, you can't really point to any action of Penelope's that was really selfless. By time the story is nearing the conclusion the reader is spoiled for choice when it comes to suspects. But Lady Lupin finds her way to the solution. She is one of those scatterbrained women who seems to have a knack for getting at the truth--albeit by some very circuitous routes.  Like the Dowager Duchess in Dorothy L. Sayers's Wimsey books, I love trying to follow her thought processes.   Three and a half stars (rounded to four on GoodReads).

[Finished on 11/4/17]

1 comment:

Kate said...

Big fan of this quartet of novels and Penelope is a wonderfully horrific character. Hard to not like Lady Lupin really.