Nothing Venture - Patricia Wentworth

Ten years earlier, when she was ten and he was 20, Nan Forsyth saved the life of Jervis Weare and was smitten with an overwhelming childhood crush. At the beginning of the book, she is 20 and working for Weare's lawyer when she overhears him storm in and tell the solicitor that he needs to come up with a bride in three days because his society fiancee, the beautiful Rosamund, has unceremoniously dumped him. Under the terms of his Uncle's will, if Jervis must be married in three months and one day after his uncle's death, or the entire fortune goes to Rosamund.

 

You can already see where this is going, right? Nan follows Jervis home and makes him a business proposition - she will marry him in return for 2000 pounds, which she promptly hands off to her sister so that the delicate Cynthia can marry her one true love and go to Australia.

 

This book is just delightful. I spent much of the book being reminded of a Heyer romance - although this is not set during the regency period, if Heyer had written contemporaries, they might have been similar to this one. There is the marriage of convenience, with Jervis coming to the realization that Nan is in love with him, and then later that he is also in love with her. There is a nice little bit of suspense because someone is trying to murder Jervis, and we're pretty sure we know who it is from the beginning. Nan is a fantastic character, with tons of agency, who saves Jervis time and again in a really convincing way. Jervis is a worthy hero, if a bit thick since he can't figure out that he's being targeted for death. The mystery is completely beside the point here - there's no reason to read it for the whodunnit. The real questions are: 1) will they survive and 2) will Jervis pull his head out of his hind end and realize that he is in love with Nan?

 

Wentworth takes a similar line with respect to the suspense climax that she did in Grey Mask, actually, but this time around it is just so much more successful. Grey Mask was published in 1928, and Nothing Venture in 1932, but that four years made quite a difference in terms of the quality of the writing, characterizations and plotting.

 

Anyway, for readers who like a lot of romance with their suspense, this is wonderful. It's not so sophisticated as Mary Stewart or Phyllis Whitney, but the romantic bits are much more fleshed out than the tiny romantic subplots in the average Agatha Christie mystery. I wouldn't be surprised if this one has some rereadability.