Friday, 23 September 2016

Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple

published October 2016

Today Will be Different 2

[Eleanor has come to New Orleans for the engagement party of her sister Ivy]

The mansion door swung open courtesy of a courtly black man in tails with white hair and white gloves. He was Mister, the husband of Taffy. Both uniformed servants to two generations of Fannings, and hopefully a third, now that Bucky had returned from New York with, of all things, a bride.

Today will be different 4

Eleanor and Joe entered. The living room was aswish with ballgowns and tails. Just as an “Oh”” was about to escape Eleanor’s mouth – Today will be different 5she’d worn flats and a knee-length dress she had no time to iron – a mint julep was thrust into her palm. The shock of the frosty silver tumbler slapped Eleanor’s face into a smile.

“Eleanor! Joe!” It was Ivy wearing a pleated Today Will be Different 3chiffon gown, lime with orange flowers and sleeves that hung like calla lilies. She gave it a twirl. “1972 Lilly Pulitzer! It belonged to Bucky’s mother. Did you know that if you admire something, the person has to give it to you? That’s the Southern way.”

commentary: Many of my UK readers may not know what a Lilly Pulitzer dress is, so it is my pleasure to introduce the brand to them. When a fashion magazine described a style as ‘Lilly Pulitzer on acid’, a friend (in America) said ‘how could you tell?’ so I looked up the whole business and saw what she meant. LP is famed for her wild, brightly-coloured prints, striking and startling to the eye – particularly as they are very upmarket in the US, worn by women whom you might more expect to be in beige cashmere. Lilly had married into the Pulitzer family (yes that one), and was making money by selling oranges and juice at a roadside stand in the family orange groves in Florida. This was a messy business, so she designed a dress in a splashy print that wouldn’t show the stains, and her customers wanted to buy the dress too, and you can guess the rest. 

(These peoples lives

None of this, no little bit, is a very UK way of carrying on, for a variety of reasons.)

Today Will be Different

So that’s Lilly. Now to Maria Semple, an author I love to bits. Her Where d’you Go Bernadette was one of my favourite books of 2012, and I also enjoyed her This One is Mine. The new book, like Bernadette, is set in Seattle, and part of my enjoyment is recognizing so much about the place, from the simple geography and settings to the kind of people she describes. The schoolkids will go to Wild Waves, the pedestrians will not cross the road without a WALK sign, no matter how empty of cars the road is. And there’s this:
… the epidemic of haggard women in their 40s trapped in playgrounds, slumped on boingy lady bugs, unconsciously pouring Tupperware containers of Cheerios down their own throats, sporting maternity jeans two years after giving birth and pushing swings with skunk stripes down the center of their hair.
Was the sight of us so terrifying that the entire next generation of college-educated woman declared “Anything but that!” and forsook careers altogether to pop out children in their 20s? Looking at the [school] moms, the answer would be: apparently.
I hope it works out for them.
Eleanor is a classic Semple heroine – glorious, deeply sympathetic, but also annoying, quite wicked, and mad as a box of frogs. The book follows her through the one day of the title (with frequent and extended flashbacks) via various farcical events and childcare challenges. She meets a poet and an artist, she goes to her child’s school, she worries about her husband.

Her clever confident comments on life include this:
My friend Merrill told me that on the first date, a guy without realizing it will tell you why the relationship will ultimately fail. He’ll say he doesn’t want kids, or he’s not the type to settle down, or he’s in a fight with his mother.
Every person has it in them to be either the Competent Traveller or the Helpless Traveller.
There are great observations, and glimpses of darkness and sadness. Eleanor at one point explains her husband’s odd behaviour with a brilliant invented story – I so wanted it to be true. I laughed a lot, and read the whole thing in a couple of hours, which fits well with its all taking place on one day.

Tucked away in the book is the astonishing true fact that the tenth President of the USA, John Tyler, was born in 1790, was president in the 1840s, and has grandsons living today. (By means of having children into his 60s).

B/W photo is a 1930s WPA picture of a New Orleans Mardi Gras ball photo from Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, 22 September 2016

The Trespasser by Tana French

published 2016
Trespasser 3


It takes two rings before Lucy answers the intercom, in a voice coated with sleep. ‘‘Lo?’

Steve says, ‘Lucy Riordan?’

‘Who’s this?’

‘Detective Garda Stephen Moran. Could we have a word?’

A long second. Then Lucy says, and the sleep’s fallen off her voice, ‘I’ll be down in a minute.’

She opens the door fast and wide awake. She’s short and fit, the kind of fit you get from life, not from the gym – she wears it like it’s owned, not rented. Platinum hair with a long sweep of fringe falling in her face – pale face with clean quick features, smudges of last night’s mascara. She’s wearing a black hoodie, paint-splashed black combats, nothing on her feet, a lot of silver ear jewellery and what looks to me like a fair-sized hangover. She has bugger-all in common with Aislinn Murray, or with what I was expecting.

We have our IDs out and read. ‘I’m Detective Garda Stephen Moran,’ Steve says, ‘and this is my partner, Detective Garda Antoinette Conway.’ And he pauses. You always leave a gap there.

Lucy doesn’t even look at the IDs. She says, sharp, ‘Is it Aislinn?’

commentary: The book has many references to clothes: what people wear is important, the styles of Aislinn and her friend are very different, for good reasons.  We can take note of who has an expensive coat, who has nice-boy clothes. But I have an admission to make, which is that from quite early on I more or less stopped making notes, or seeing those clothes as blog fodder, or anything really except clicking my Kindle as fast as possible. It’s a long book, maybe even repetitious, it could probably have been shortened. But I ripped through it, endlessly anxious to know what happened next, and what the truth was about the case. What more can you ask for from a book?

Earlier this year I did a post on Tana French’s The Secret Place, one of the best books I’ve read this year, and one of the best new-to-me writers I’ve encountered. This is her new book about the Dublin Murder Squad, and, yes, it’s another zinger. Conway and Moran are the two detectives from the earlier book, and they’ve been given what looks like a routine domestic killing: a young woman who was preparing to entertain a young man at home has been murdered. Surely it’s obvious that her date did it? There seems to be pressure for the case to be wrapped up quickly and comfortably. Antoinette and Steve aren’t happy with that – but can’t work out exactly where the problems lie.

The interviews with Aislinn’s friends and acquaintances are very absorbing, and (as with Secret Place) the book takes place over a very short time frame – I was puzzled that a particular witness hadn’t been re-interviewed, but then realized that very little time had passed.

She’s great at descriptions and characters – you feel you know this Dublin and these Dubliners by the end – and she is very funny in glancing lines:
If she slapped him down, his inner Hulk could well have burst his good going-out jumper.
Anyone who turns herself into Barbie because that’s the only way she feels worthwhile needs a kick up the hole, but someone who does it for a revenge mission deserves a few points for determination.
She could have helped him alphabetize the feng shui section. Jaysus, the romance.
The book’s not for the faint at heart – it has harsh language and attitudes, nobody is pulling any punches. There were a few moments where I had mental arguments with the main characters – but everything was more or less resolved in the plotline. But none of that seems to matter anyway, compared with the joy of a book that pins you to your chair and makes you read it.

Blogging friend Cleo at Cleo Loves Books has done a great review of this one, with more details of the plot (she was better at making notes than I was…)

Pictures from Pinterest and ASOS.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Children in Crime: A Cheating Entry


The Tuesday Night Bloggers  are an informal group of crime fiction fans and bloggers who choose a topic each month to discuss in posts on Tuesdays.
Our theme for September is:

BEv logo


Thanks to Bev, as ever, for the excellent logo. Kate at Cross-Examining Crime has kindly offered to collect the links for the various pieces.

If anyone wants to join in, just send a link to one of us or post it in the comments below.

We tend to write about traditional crime fiction, often from the Golden Age – in previous weeks I chose The Bad Seed by William March (1954) and The Third Eye by Ethel Lina White (1937). This week I was short of time, but rather than post no entry, I will write about a recent French thriller – one that revolves round lost babies. So a compromise…

After the Crash by Michel Bussi

published in English in 2015, translated from the French by Sam Taylor

After The Crash

September 1998

Were they lovers, or brother and sister?

The question has been nagging at Mariam for almost a month… At this hour of the morning the bar was still mostly empty and Mariam took advantage of the quiet to clean tabletops and arrange chairs.
The couple were sitting, as they usually did, near the window, at a tiny table for tow, holding hands and looking deep into each other’s blue eyes.
Mariam sighed. The lack of certainty bothered her. She generally had a keen instinct when it came to her students’ love lives. She snapped out of it: she still had to wipe down the tables and sweep the floor; in a few minutes thousands of stressed students would rush from the metro station…

IN terms of money, Emilie’s standard of living appeared to be the very opposite of Marc’s. Mariam had a knack for evaluating, in an instant, the quality and cost of the clothing worn by her students, from H&M and Zara to Yves Saint Laurent.

Emilie did not wear Yves Saint Laurent, but she wasn’t far off. What she was wearing today – a simple, elegant orange silk blouse and a black asymmetrical skirt – had undoubtedly cost a fortune. Emilie and Marc might be from the same place, but they did not belong to the same world.

And yet they were inseparable.
commentary: A passage from near the beginning of this book, which is a French thriller with bestseller status wherever it is published. It has a great setup: it begins with a plane crashing into a mountain in 1980. Everyone on board is killed, except for a baby found near the wreckage. But there is nothing to indicate who she is, and there were two girls of the right age on the plane - she could be either. Both sets of grandparents step forward to claim the child, each set convinced they are the rightful ancestors – each has already lost son and daughter-in-law in the crash. One family is very rich, one is very poor. An agonizing court case follows. At the time there was no easy way to identify the correct family.

The main part of the book starts 18 years later, when the young woman (Emilie above) and Marc – who might be her brother or might not – get some information. A private eye has been pursuing the case all this time, paid by the rich family, still trying to collect evidence which will establish her birth.

She and Marc have their own worries, and what on earth has happened to the investigator? Extracts from his notebook tracing the events over the years are interspersed with events in 1998.

The years and timing of the book have been chosen, you would say, for one particular reason: in 1980 there was no possibility of DNA testing to establish who were the grandparents. Bussi (and his private eye) then give good careful reasons why the DNA test did not immediately resolve the situation when it did come over the horizon. 

Everything comes to a climax as Emilie approaches her 18th birthday, and the story swirls round France then and now, with much action and several deaths.

My friend Christine Poulson wrote about this book on her blog recently – that’s what prompted me to take it down off the shelf in fact – and said she guessed early on what was going on. I didn’t – though I did have a plot turn idea that I frankly think was better than the author’s. I found the first half very compelling, the second half rather less so but kept reading because I did want to know the explanation for various items, and exactly who Emilie was. It’s certainly a rattling good yarn, and excellent holiday reading. (Unless you are in an aeroplane anywhere near a mountain of course… ) I think afterwards you start thinking of rather obvious questions and objections, but that’s fair play for a page-turning thriller.

I enjoyed reading the book mostly because it was so very French, in a way I find it hard to define. The private eye was like a character from 50 years ago, and his florid writing style in his journal wouldn’t do at all in the UK, but seemed to fit him. In fact he is very like the private eye in Sebastian Japrisot’s Very Long Engagement, which is set in the 1920s – this was my picture for him in the blogpost:

After the Crash 2

- and he seems in a line going back to Inspector Javert from Les Miserables – the portentous air, the declaiming, the conviction of rightness and high moral tone.

Everyone’s attitudes seem endlessly French – I cannot explain it better than that. I loved Robert Harris’s French-set book on the Dreyfus affair, Officer and Spy, but it was always the work of an Englishman, you could never confuse him with a French writer.

Café pic is from Wikimedia Commons, taken by Sali Sasaki.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Christie Firsts: The Best Introductory Books

Christie firsts
Our heroine, Agatha

Kate Jackson is a fellow Tuesday Night Club-er and crime fiction fan who blogs as Cross-Examining Crime, and she had a brilliant idea for marking the birthday of the blessed Agatha Christie today, 15th September, in this, the 40th year after her death.

She said:
On this day I decided to do a post called Christie Firsts which suggests to new Christie readers which novels are the best introduction to Poirot, Marple, the Beresfords, Superintendent Battle, Christie's thrillers and Christie's stand alone novels. I've done my picking and given a reason why.

And then she extended the challenge to other bloggers. So I wasn’t going to miss that chance. These are my choices, and Kate will list other people’s as well as her own over at her blog.

So – these are chosen with a view to best introducing a new reader to Christie… (links are to reviews on this blog)

Christie firsts 1
Looks innocent. Ancient photos provide the clues

For Hercule Poirot: Mrs McGinty’s Dead My favourite Poirots tend to be the 40s and 50s ones, and this is slap bang in the period (1952) and a very appealing entry. It contains proper detection, and there is the excellent setup: Mrs McG died after saving a newspaper cutting about former murderers. Which of them is lurking in this very English village – who has a secret worth killing for? Anyone who believes, incorrectly, that Poirot deals humourlessly and over-respectfully with aristocracy in stately homes should read this one and be surprised. The details of life in the 50s are splendid too, and the hideous b&b is glorious.

Christie firsts 2
Land girls, impersonation and the black market

For Miss Marple: A Murder is Announced. (1950) Village life after WW2 – and far from being cozy despite surface appearances. The local paper contains an advert for a murder to take place that night: Is it a game or a joke? Everyone turns up at the address given, and someone dies. The plot is ludicrous, but everything else is excellent – great structure, a large cast of well-defined characters (some of whom seem like stereotypes, but then you never know with Christie), and great conversations and pictures of life, and of the uncertainties after the war. A really memorable Marple.

Colonel Race/standalone/foreign setting/flapperChristie firsts 4 adventure: One book to cover all of these: The Man in the Brown Suit (1924). This is a good introduction to Christie because it is such an enjoyable and unexpected book – it’s not particularly typical of her later work in fact, but the roots are all there – it’s funny, contains some wonderful female characters and some very clever tricks. Travel details (if not crimes) based on Christie's own round-the-world journey - that's her on board ship to the right.

For Superintendent Battle: Towards Zero (1944) Clever, well-worked out, nice characters and dialogue. A nasty murder and a chilling plot in an enjoyable holiday setting – there’s a lot of the ‘psychology’ she often mentions rather randomly, but in this case it is beautifully woven into an excellent plot.

Now I’m supposed to pick a Tommy & Tuppence book to recommend, but oh, look at the time! Must dash!... I'm supposed to be persuading you to read Christie not putting you off, after all. (But you can read about Secret Adversary and N or M? on the blog if you want to…)

Thanks to Kate for a great idea – do go over and look at her blog.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Children in Crime: The Worst School in the World?


The Tuesday Night Bloggers are back - 

this week with some schoolgirls & teachers in jeopardy…

We are the informal group of crime fiction fans and bloggers choosing a topic each month to discuss in posts on Tuesdays.

Our theme for September is:

BEv logo


Thanks to Bev, as ever, for the excellent logo. Kate at Cross-Examining Crime has kindly offered to collect the links for the various pieces.

The Week 1 links are here, along with Kate’s own piece.

If anyone wants to join in, just send a link to one of us or post it in the comments below.

Last week I looked at killer-child classic The Bad Seed by William March, with a very small child who is in the frame and should be in the dock. This week the children are schoolgirls at a highly unusual school in this Ethel Lina White book. She did groups of people really well – but they weren’t much like anyone else’s, and this is one very weird school…

The Third Eye by Ethel Lina White

published 1937
[It’s the last day of term: Caroline is a PE teacher.]

Third Eye 3
...or I'll hit you...
“Well, I must give the wretched girls a last hockey practice."

It was a cold grey day with a bite of north-east wind which pinched faces and nipped fingers. When Caroline reached the field, she found the girls standing together in a forlorn huddle, grumbling about the weather.

"Have a heart, Miss Watts," they pleaded. "Let us off."

"Do you good," declared Caroline. "Jean, you play centre-forward— Mary, goal——" She broke off at the sound of a noisy burst of coughing behind her. "Who's the crooner?" she asked.

"Me," replied a muffled voice. Caroline swung round and saw Flora Baumgarten—— the fat intelligent pupil. Her face was flushed and her eyes were streaming, as though she were in the grip of a heavy cold. "Idiot," stormed Caroline. "What possessed you to come out in this wind? You ought to be in bed."

[She sends Flora back into the school.]

Third Eye 1

After Flora had gone, Caroline tried to forget the incident. She had stopped the game to give a demonstration of passing on the left wing, when she heard a laugh. "Flora's come back, Miss Watts," a girl told her. Caroline turned and gazed with horrified eyes at the over-developed form— ludicrous in shorts and sweater— stumbling slowly down the field.

commentary: Caroline is a classic White heroine – independent, decisive, unafraid, and about to get into real danger. The first half of the book takes place in a girls’ school, Abbey School, a posh fee-paying place which is having some problems. She is warned before she goes there, taking up a post at short notice:
"I know from personal experience that these places can he hotbeds of jealousy and scandal."
- and worse: the reason there is a vacancy is because a teacher died suddenly **.

It is not a rigorously academic school:
"Its main line is social. To quote from an advertisement, we train the girls 'to become beautiful ladies.' …Girls must have the proper preparation for the life they are to lead. Our pupils are society girls. Never a term without a title.”
- but the young ladies will be prepared for life in some unexpected ways. The Matron is a terrifying figure, a truly wonderful villain with some amazing clothes: ‘a tailored dinner-suit with a frilled white shirt’, ‘As she swaggered on to the field, wearing breeches and a polo jersey…’, ‘An ancient bath-robe of orange towelling was open to display creased purple pyjamas.. her hair was set with metal clips and she wore a rubber chin- strap with perfect unconcern’.

Third Eye 2
confrontation between teachers

Matron has drinks parties to which she invites the senior girls – those with titles anyway – and she shows them life in other ways:
"I know I've been criticised for taking girls into a cocktail bar at Plume. But it would be a fine advertisement for the school if they got tight at their first party."
Exactly what we all want from our daughters’ education.

And, as it turns out, the hideous Matron can also turn her hand to being a medium when a séance is called for – and this is one way she keeps the headmistress under her thumb.

When someone dies, Caroline has evidence that the Matron is to blame – though through laziness and negligence rather than something more sinister: too much time spent ‘stretched on the divan, smoking’. As Caroline travels back to school by coach after the Christmas break, someone is going to try to get hold of the vital piece of evidence from her luggage. The story changes gear dramatically, and turns into the regular White trope of a young woman amongst a gang of passengers – who can she trust? Who is the villain? We have a little more info than Caroline, but White handles her groups well, and we don’t quite know when the danger level has been turned up, or is receding – as ever, it is cleverly done.

By now the school and the schoolgirls have little to do with it – this is very much a book of two halves. Both are excellent in their own way, though the transition is slightly awkward. But the school itself is quite splendid – completely outrageous, verging on St Trinian’s territory, and tremendous fun.

Abbey School is truly the worst school in the world.

Flora is the only one of the schoolgirls to have a real character, and it is interesting that White always refers to her as fat Flora, but this never sounds offensive or mean-spirited: it is not fat-shaming.

** One sideline intrigued me: the games mistress who died before Caroline arrived had ‘strained her heart getting her Bergman Osterberg Dip.’ I looked this up, thinking she was perfecting a difficult gymnastic move, but now I deduce it means her B-O Diploma. Marina Bergman Osterberg was a ‘Swedish-born physical education instructor and women's suffrage advocate who spent most of her working life in Britain’ – that’s according to her Wikipedia page, which is well worth a read. Now frankly it all sounds a lot like Leys teacher training college in the revered Miss Pym Disposes by Jospehine Tey, with its Swedish instructor and women going out to teach. I think the dead games mistress might have been the unfortunate Rouse if she’d managed to survive Leys instead of dying there – she was doomed to be murdered sooner or later…. (Miss Pym is much featured on the blog, and will be the topic of the chapter I have contributed to a forthcoming book edited by Curtis Evans.)

John at Pretty Sinister Books took a thorough look at The Third Eye here and has a lot more detail of the plot and atmosphere, and Curt at Passing Tramp similarly gives it a good going-over here – these two blogposts would very much complement my tangential view of the book for anyone interested.

The pictures are from a girls' annual from a few years before the date of the book.

Plenty more Ethel Lina White all over the blog, and plenty more books set in schools – click on the labels below.

Monday, 12 September 2016

Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome

published 1930

Swallows and amazons 3

In the little boat were two girls, one steering, the other sitting in the middle thwart. The two girls were almost exactly alike. Both had red knitted caps, brown shirts, blue knickerbockers and no stockings. They were steering straight for the island.

Swallows and amazons

In the middle of the camp a tall stick was stuck in the ground with a black pirate flag blowing from the top of it. But there seemed to be nobody there. Then, inside their own tents, they saw two figures, kneeling, one with a bow ready to shoot, the other fitting an arrow.

“It’s not the houseboat man,” said Titty. “It’s the pirates from the pirate ship.”

“And in our tents,” said Susan.

“Let’s take them prisoners,” said Roger.

“Hands up,” said the pirate girl from the Amazon, who was in the captain’s tent.

“Hands up yourselves,” cried Captain John, and made as if to leap to his feet. Both the pirates shot off their arrows.

“Now,” shouted John, “before they load again. Swallows for ever!”

The four Swallows were up and half-way across the open space in a moment.

The red-capped Amazons leapt up out of the tents to meet them.

Swallows and amazons 2

commentary: Either you love Swallows & Amazons or you don’t – they seem to induce strong feelings.

I’ve recently been praising Ferdinand Mount and his writings on books, but on Ransome we disagree: he says the books are ‘to be avoided with horror and loathing by any young person with the slightest vestige of humour or subversion’ and he longs for the children therein to be ‘deported to the island in Lord of the Flies.’ He criticizes their middle-classness, their sanitized world – which, tbh, you think he probably shared. Given his background, he hasn’t really got the workingclass credentials to mock child siblings who sail together and play together.

I, on the other hand, am a child of the city, and sailing would have seemed as unlikely as flying in my childhood, but I loved every word of this whole series, and borrowed them repeatedly from the library. (In Mount’s world, he makes clear, they would have been hard-backed books bought as presents for the children.) I asked friends if they had read the books, and those who liked them, loved them – the others couldn’t get on with them at all. No lukewarm feelings here.

There’s been a TV series and two films of Swallows and Amazons – a new one out this year. The previous one, filmed in 1973, lives on in many hearts and you can find a lot of discussion of it on the internet. Mate Susan was played by the intensely beautiful Suzanna Hamilton, who went on to appear as an adult in films such as 1984 and Out of Africa - and I have met her. Sophie Neville, who played Titty, has been interviewed, and has written, about the experience of making the film several times.

The new film has had an extra plotline (about spies) bolted on, and has taken some features from the 1974 film rather than book, but is highly enjoyable. If you can’t thrill to the sight of small dinghies skimming across the water in the Lake District (even if you would hate to be on one) then you are dead inside, and that is that.

The books are still tremendous fun to read, though looking at this as a mother I was faintly horrified by the lack of care and safety. A running joke is that young Roger can’t actually swim, he just pretends to be able to, in order to go on the camping trip. There isn’t a lifejacket in sight as far as I can tell. The author certainly sides with the children, who finds the parents (‘natives’) very dull and liable to worry, and there is a telling and convincing moment when the children nearly blow it by turning up late to collect their milk, of all things.

Some people are quite sniffy about Mate Susan and her interest in cooking and keeping the camp ship-shape - but those are essential skills for outdoor adventurers. And think of Nancy Blackett, the terror of the seas. She was one of my favourite heroines when I was about 10: I’m a lot older now, but I still think she’s great, and that she was an excellent role model. Nothing girly about the adventurous Nancy.

Top picture is a still from the most recent film. The pirate hat is available on etsy

Person in a rowing boat (John? Nancy?) is from the Library of Congress’s collection of views of Britain – it shows Broomhill Point on Derwentwater.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Dress Down Sunday: OHMSS by Ian Fleming - part 2

published 1963

On Her Majesty's Secret Service

James Bond Book 11




[James Bond meets his host for the first time at Piz Gloria]

‘Now, shall we settle down here' – the Count waved towards his desk - 'or shall we go outside? You see' - he gestured at his brown body -' I am a heliotrope, a sun-worshipper. So much so that I have had to have these lenses devised for me. Otherwise, the ultraviolet rays, at this altitude...' He left the phrase unfinished.

'I haven't seen that kind of lens before. After all, I can leave the books here and fetch them if we need them for reference. I have the case pretty clear in my mind. And' -Bond smiled chummily - 'it would be nice to go back to the fog with something of a sunburn.'


Bond had equipped himself at Lillywhites with clothing he thought would be both appropriate and sensible. He had avoided the modern elasticized vorlage trousers and had chosen the more comfortable but old-fashioned type of ski-trouser in a smooth cloth. Above these he wore an aged black wind-cheater that he used for golf, over his usual white sea-island cotton shirt. He had wisely reinforced this outfit with long and ugly cotton and wool pants and vests. He had conspicuously brand-new ski-boots with powerful ankle-straps. He said, 'Then I'd better take off my sweater.' He did so and followed the Count out on to the veranda.


The Count lay back again in his upholstered aluminium chaise-longue. Bond drew up a light chair made of similar materials. He placed it also facing the sun, but at an angle so that he could watch the Count's face.

commentary: Following on from the first entry on this book on Friday.

‘Vorlage’ is a mode of skiing,(‘leaning forward from the ankles usually without lifting the heels from the skis’), and vorlage trousers, apparently, had tapered legs and elastic under the foot.

Bond fans have picked this description of Bond clothes apart – where did the sweater come from? People have tried to do a linkup, but really – a windcheater is not a sweater, and a zip top jersey is not the same thing as a jacket.

I think by this time Fleming was rather tired and in ill-health, and was so successful that people didn’t edit him enough – in the engrossing collection of his letters there are endless mentions of line edits, but on one page alone of this book there is
The shock of the wind-horn’s scream had automatically cut out ‘George’.
With absolutely no indication of who or what George is, and also this:
It was then… that it happened
The worst kind of thrillerese, along with the later
Absolute certitude that this was going to be a night to remember.
When he’s planning his activities in the chalet, he mentions a female co-conspirator before he has actually recruited her – I think the line might be a mistake.

And there are far, far too many exclamation marks.

But still – what a great book.

I was thinking about the differences between Bond and his competitors. I love Len Deighton’s books, and from a distance his books can look similar to Fleming’s, but close up you would never mistake them for each other. (And I say this from a given that I like both authors very much.) Deighton, btw, says that Fleming was very kind and gracious with him – although Fleming did have his doubts about the Harry-Palmer-style hero.

On the opening page of OHMSS, a beach is described as ‘the longest beach in the north of France’: now, this is an imaginary town, Fleming made it up for Casino Royale and moved it slightly for this book, so why bother with the boast? But it’s such a Fleming-ish line – something is the best, and now you know all about it: it’s informative you see. Then, Deighton and Le Carre are always full of tradecraft, those little ways and means that spies get on with their investigations – Bond doesn’t bother with that (it’s surprising he wasn’t killed years ago), and at most leaves traps to see if his room has been searched (which we already know about from Enid Blyton, thanks) and in this book uses his urine as invisible ink (Enid Blyton used orange juice).

We find out that Bond abhors shoelaces, and that the Loire is his favourite river. We get some info on M’s private life and finances, and we are told that he has a great dislike of beatniks, and there is a nice mention of Nero Wolfe.

It is boastful, and informative, and really rather endearing.

The warm underwear is from an advert from the NYPL, much earlier than the date of the book. Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon jumps out of bed and puts on his union suit – great favourite blogpost.

The ski outfit, from the NYPL, is a French fashion plate, and is from 1921, but much smarter than Bond’s shabby-sounding clothes. I already complained about them in the entry on Goldfinger, where – at least there is consistency – he wore them for golf. ‘…Sounds seedy and rather disreputable’ I said. Yes.

The four ski-ers are from a Lillywhites catalogue – trying out the dry ski slope. I really DON’T think this venerable UK company would have supplied Bond with a nasty windcheater.