Picks and Pans Review: At 80, and After 44 Books of All Kinds, the Prolific Symons Remains Extraordinarily Clever at Producing Mysteries That Read as If They Happened in the Victorian Era—without That Period's Cluttered Prose and Convoluted Plots. His N

updated 01/24/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/24/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

puzzler. The settings are evoked beautifully, and Oscar Wilde can stop by for a few minutes at a party for a realistic touch. In The Detling Secret the Irish troubles are festering, there's a clever swindler from America, and a strong-minded young woman of a good family insists on marrying a man with a mysterious past. She is also a do-gooder who, in trying to help downtrodden women, winds up with a street urchin as a servant. The maid says things such as "My mum said you must never let a man interfere with you, and if you did you had a baby." When her blunt-spoken mistress explains the facts of life, the maid says, "Well, I never. You mean you got to go through all that before you get a baby? I seen those things on my brothers, but I never knew what they was for." All the characters come together at a Christmas party in the country where there is a murder that looks like an accident. Readers of this superior fiction will have a grand time guessing the Detling secret. (Viking, $14.75)

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