Monday, 19 August 2013

The Man in the Red Hat by Richard Keverne

published 1930  chapter 2





[Mark is looking for a Miss Buckingham, and calls at her house]

An awkward maidservant who answered his ring [said] ‘No sir. She don’t live here any more.. the house is let. It’s Major Arthur lives here now… Or there’s Miss Crawley – perhaps she would do?’…

‘Who’s Miss Crawley?’ he asked.

‘She’s Miss Buckingham’s companion. Funny, isn’t it?’ She smiled ingenuously. ‘She only come at lunch-time. Should I tell her?’

Mark was saved an answer by the appearance, from a door on the far side of the square hall, of a woman. At first glance she looked like any ordinary well-dressed woman of the period, in close-fitting hat and short skirt, but as she came towards him he was conscious of an air of capability about her. Clearly she had overheard the conversation.

‘You wanted to see Miss Buckingham?’ she asked, gazing at him through steady brown eyes that seemed rather to be assessing him.

The maid faded away.



observations: Richard Keverne seems to have been one of those industrious detective story writers producing their books regularly in the Golden Age, now completely forgotten: there’s no Wikipedia entry, and he’s not listed in any crime fiction reference books that I can see. But there is evidence that Eric Partridge was reading him when he compiled his Dictionary of Slang, first published 1938. The Man in the Red Hat is quoted twice to illustrate modern usage – for the word ‘murky’ as meaning discreditable and sinister, and ‘poisonous’ referring to a person, with the implication of his being discreditable or corrupt. Both usages were said to first dates from the 1920s/30s.

So yes, the story is full of murky deeds and poisonous people, while the noble Mark tries to sort everything out. The Man in the Red Hat is an old painting, maybe valuable, and various people seem to be up to no good with it. One of the twists in the book stands out a mile to the modern reader, though in fairness that’s mostly because it’s a standard Christie trope (about old ladies) that we’ve become used to.

Very much of its time - Mark meets an artistic friend of Miss Crawley and we are told that he:
knew the type and rather disliked it for the obvious insincerity of its pose of sex equality. Normal politeness would be wasted on her.
-- which doesn’t endear him to the modern reader. The artistic lady wears an ‘overall of lurid design’. I spent some time, unsuccessfully, trying to visualize this before deciding it was meaningless.

There is a nice description of lunch in a traditional London chop house, and some useful advice for those drinking in unknown parts: Always order rum. ‘You’re pretty sure to get honest rum anywhere. It costs more to fake it than to make it.’ Who knew?

Altogether, a reasonable read, of historical interest, but not a must-read – I got quite tired of the endless plot convolutions among the pool of unattractive characters.

My Penguin copy of this one implies a publication date of 1938, but 1930 is the correct year – there’s a review of it in The Spectator magazine then. So the photograph (from the Clover Vintage Tumbler) is from Vogue in 1930 (although the words ‘of the period’ in the extract above suggest it might be set a few years earlier.)

9 comments:

  1. Moira - Ah, those GA plot convolutions. Where would the era have been without them. ;-) I heard of his work once or twice but I must admit, I've never tried it. Thanks for making me think about this. Oh, and I love that hat she's wearing.

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    1. Yes I liked the hat. Richard Keverne probably deserves his obscurity (if that doesn't sound too harsh) but I enjoyed the nostalgic nature of such a very traditional story, with people jumping into their cars and tearing all over the south of England in pursuit of witnesses.

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  2. A fairly safe bet to say I'm not tempted by this. I would be curious to know how long it takes you on average to do all your research for your posts, all the detail....

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    1. No,probably not your thing. The posts vary enormously, some of them are quick to do, and others I spend ages finding the right picture and getting some backstory. I have spent far too much of my life reading, so have a massive back catalogue, and I don't have many talents but one of them is a good memory, so both those things help...

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    2. Far too much of your life reading...is that even possible? Envious!

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  3. I have to agree with Col, it is impossible to spend too much time reading. Luckily all of my (small) family feels that way, although we also devote a good amount of time to films and TV shows that we get attached to.

    As a side comment, I found a copy of "Have You Seen?..." by David Thomson and I am enjoying reading through it (very slowly). I first heard of it at your blog.

    Getting back to the subject of this post, I had never heard of this vintage author and I probably will skip him just because I have so many good ones to catch up on ... but I am curious how you came to have a copy.

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    1. Tracy I'm glad you got the David Thomson, it's such a good book for film fans. The Richard Keverne: In England in the 1930s, 40s and 50s the Penguin paperbacks became widespread, and they had nice uniform covers - green and white for crime, orange and white for fiction - and if I see an old green-and-white 2nd-hand somewhere I will get it, just for interest, and because they look nice lined up! I paid £1 for this one, so just a bit more than a dollar. When you visit a 2nd-hand bookshop or charity shop here, they are easy to spot on the shelves with their distinctive covers.

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    2. That is amazing. Here I never (rarely) find anything like that in used book stores, and if I did, the price would not be that good. Admittedly I am in a smallish town comparatively but I have visited a lot of used bookstores in the San Jose, CA area and no better luck there. Very, very occasionally a Penguin of that vintage will show up at my favorite September book sale and I grab it. I am envious.

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    3. I guess maybe they were more common here, perhaps a bit more of a special item in the US? Mind you, you find them less and less here, I think collectors snap them up. But if you're not bothered about condition (and I'm not) you still can get bargains.

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