Patricia Wentworth The Gazebo (1955).
My cover is from the undated 'The Thriller Book Club' edition (121 Charing Cross Road, London WC2).
I was amazed not to see 'Miss Silver' on The Guardian's list of top female detectives. Mind you, there were many other notable absences.
The Gazebo (sometimes appearing as The Summerhouse) is a typical high quality 'Miss Silver' crime-romance-morality tale. Who murdered Althea Graham's domineering mother? Why has Nicholas Carey returned after five years? Can Althea give him up again? Should she buy some make-up and get her hair done?
There was very little likelihood that Althea would meet him round any street corner. But if by any chance she did, why should he see her looking as if she had been feeding an empty heart on ashes for the five longest and loneliest years of her life?
What is going on in the quiet suburbs of London? What is the mystery of the Gazebo? Who'd have thought that an expanding ruler could be an instrument of death?
Excellent characterisation, well-drawn settings, juicy mystery:
Mrs. Blount... was a simple woman and a most unhappy one. It soothed this unhappiness to read about other people who were unhappy, and who got over it and lived happily ever after. It wasn't that she thought it would happen to her, she just liked to read about it happening to other people. It was for the same reason that she read every word of the advice on beauty culture... There were ways in which you could put everything right, and she never got tired of reading about them.
And Miss Silver? Miss Silver can put everything right, all the while knitting pink vests for "children who might never have been born if Miss Silver had not stepped in to disentangle the net in which innocent feet had been caught".
In sum: lovely old-fashioned detective stuff, complete with obliging gentleman policeman.
If you liked this... There are many many more 'Miss Silver' books out there. I also liked Miss Silver Intervenes and The Alington Inheritance.