Outrageous Fortune by Patricia Wentworth

December 4, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

Outrageous Fortune by Patricia Wentworth. 1933. French title: Les huit émeraudes.

Before reviewing the book, let me tell you about when and where I started reading it. I was on a train and for people who know French TGVs, I was sitting in a carriage, alone about eight sits, the seven others occupied by gendarmes-musicians, i.e. gendarmes who play in a gendarmes band. They had performed a concert somewhere during the weekend and were heading back home. It was the noon train and they started pulling their lunch out of their back-bags: baguette, saucisson, pâté, red wine and they even had schnapps. I almost expected real glasses for the wine and felt a bit disappointed that they didn’t have stinking cheese and berets too. They were talking loudly, full of banter. I looked at them, amused, thinking how clichéd French they looked like. I’m sure that if foreign tourists had been in the carriage, they would have blissfully thought themselves at the core of real and eternal France. So here I sit, among them, observing and smiling. They were eating, chatting, joking, playing cards and discussing an aria by Bach. An interesting combination and a colourful set of people, for sure. When a cell phone rang with an old-fashioned shrieking “Driiiing”, one of them took a serious voice and said “Yes, Derrick speaking”. When I told you in my German crime fiction entry that French people are traumatised by Derrick!! As funny as this little scene was, it wasn’t the perfect moment to read The Custom of the Country in English. Lucky me -or clever me, who knows- I had brought Outrageous Fortune by Patricia Wentworth. And that is definitely a Beach and Public Transport book: no problem concentrating on this one and no steel concentration needed either. The right book and the right place and time, that’s my motto.

So what about Outrageous Fortune? OK, I have to admit, I grabed this book in the bookstore because of its cover; I thought it was gorgeous. It had been a while since my last Wentworth, she’s one of my comfort writers, the ones I read when I want something distracting and not complicated.  A man is in a hospital in Sussex. He was shipwrecked when the Alice Aiden, the coastal boat heading to Glasgow encountered a thick fog. This man lost his memory, he can’t say who he is but keeps talking in his sleep about a Jim Randall or Jim Riddel. The nurses advertise on the radio that a man named Jim Randall or Jim Riddel has been found; if anyone knows him, they can pick him up. Nesta Riddel hears the message and decides to go and fetch him, especially when she realizes that he relentlessly mentions the eight emeralds that she and her accomplice Jim Riddel have stolen from the rich New-Yorker Elmer van Berg. (A very Whartonian name to me). The robbery has been making the headlines for a few weeks as Elmer was shot by the thief and is in a coma. A few days after the injured man has left the hospital with Nesta, Caroline shows up there, explaining she thinks the man could be her cousin Jim Randal.

From there on, we follow the slow reconstruction of the events. Who is that man? Where are the stolen emeralds? Will Elmer van Berg wake up?. It’s full of mistaken identities, villains, encounters in trains, night chases, deserted houses, and rendezvous in dark parks. Wentworth wrote this novel in 1933 and for the contemporary reader, it has the sweet flavour of a disappeared world full of righteous ex-militaries, dignified and slightly ridiculous spinsters, quaint English villages, greedy villains with bad teeth, old mansions and ethereal beauties who need smelling salts. The clichéd England for foreigners, just like the clichéd France of the little group I described before.

Sure Patricia Wentworth doesn’t deserve the Nobel Prize for literature but it was an enjoyable read and exactly what I needed then. Her novels are translated for the first time in French for the 10:18 collection.


  1. December 4, 2011 at 1:15 am

    I don’t think Proust would have worked as well given the same scenario in the train.

    I haven’t tried this author.


    • December 4, 2011 at 9:15 am

      Actually I think Proust would have been even more difficult to read than the Wharton.
      I’m not sure you’d like her, too much side romance for you, I’d say. I don’t know how she sounds in English.


      • December 5, 2011 at 8:00 pm

        You’re right. I looked up some of her titles and they din’t appeal. Great covers though.


        • December 5, 2011 at 9:00 pm

          That’s what I thought.


  2. December 4, 2011 at 11:01 am

    I wouldn’t mind those men as much as I did the woman sitting behind me changing her grand-child’s nappies… I’m annoyed by the fact that the TGV will not stop at Gare de l’est anymore. It will take less time, only 3hrs from Basel to Paris, still, it will feel so odd.
    I don’t think I could use the term transportation read as I tend to listen to music when moving. For one reason or the other reading and moving are bad combinations for me. I get sick very easily. Lucky it isn’t your case.
    The same here, I have never read her. It’s good to have authors we can return to and know they will not disappoint. I have no idea whether I would like her or not. Is this rather cozy crime?


    • December 4, 2011 at 11:17 am

      Being on a train or a plane with a baby is a challenge. In TGVs, I think you have a place to take care of small children. Where will it stop? Gare de Lyon?
      Trains and planes are the only places I don’t get motion sickness. I read a lot on trains, on business hours, the carriages are really quiet, I read or I type reviews. 🙂

      Yes, you could call it cozy crime. This one doesn’t belong to the Miss Silver series. Miss Silver is a lot like Miss Marple. I wonder if they have been made into films or TV series. They could be good on screen.


  3. December 4, 2011 at 11:27 am

    She had the possibility to do it elsewhere, she just didn’t care. Yes, Gare de Lyon. It will feel less like coming home when stepping off the train as the quartier there isn’t one I used to frequent much. But I suppose after the first two or three times it will feel OK.
    I have no idea whether there is a movie or not.


    • December 4, 2011 at 11:31 am

      There are more metros and RERs at Gare de Lyon. It should be easier. (there’s a nice bookstore)


  4. December 4, 2011 at 9:15 pm

    Oh my goodness, I read through everything I could get hold of by Patricia Wentworth when I was in my late teens. And I do still pick them up again every now and then when I need a reliable comfort novel. I read all the Miss Silvers, but I don’t remember this one – how about that! I shall have to see if I can get hold of it.


    • December 4, 2011 at 9:21 pm

      I’ve read a lot of her books when my children were under five. I was too tired to read challenging books and hers were unwinding, like watching a simple movie.
      Are her books made into films or TV series?


  5. December 6, 2011 at 10:26 am

    We Brits seem to be obsessed with France and the French way of life – there is a series on tv at the moment about English people who have gone to live in the Dordogne which is attracting huge numbers of viewers . On the other hand, Britain is also a very popular place to visit. Perhaps we all ike “the other” more than where we are!

    This sounds like a good read – if a little archaic. The title is so typical of the era also


    • December 6, 2011 at 10:33 am

      And we have documentaries about British people buying houses in Britanny or Dordogne. We understand that houses are cheaper here but if Dordogne is a nice country place for holidays, personally, I wouldn’t live there. I’d like to watch that series, it’s always fun to see the French in a foreign mirror.

      I suppose the fascination is the same on each side of the channel.


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