The Sirens Sang of Murder by Sarah Caudwell

published 1989






It was a long room, furnished in devoted imitation of the Belle Epoque with crimson velvet and gilt-framed looking glasses. There were when I entered only three people in it, but if there had been thirty I daresay the woman sitting curled up on the sofa would still have been the first to attract my notice. Dressed in grey-green chiffon interwoven with silver, with some ornament also of silver shining in her auburn hair, she looked like a nymph in Ovid’s Metamorphoses in the process of transformation into a fountain, and there was about her movements a corresponding fluidity and charm which would have seduced the eye from women with better claims to be thought beautiful. She was holding a glass of champagne, and the pleasant sound of her laughter reached me as I entered.


observations: Sarah Caudwell wrote only a handful of detective novels, but they are among the very best. This was the third, and there is the expected complex reporting procedure – though the young barristers at New Square (it is 1989) have discovered telex machines. As is usual, some of the group are hanging around on home territory (the Corkscrew winebar and Guido’s restaurant) receiving information in various formats and in different time schemes. This time Cantrip has been lured to the Channel Islands with various beautiful women, and will end up on Sark and Little Sark. Complex financial dealings regarding tax avoidance, and the strange nature of trusts, will be explained just enough. Julia will be arrested on a beach at dawn in evening dress (with exuberant d├ęcolletage).

All the books have enormous joie de vivre, and a winning combination of old-fashioned clueing and plotting, and modern attitudes and young people. The lovely Julia becomes irate at one point because a pen has been dropped at the scene of the murder:
She had never read of such a thing – or at any rate not in any piece of respectable crime fiction published since the beginning of the Second World War…. If we must have a clue of a physical nature… then let it at least be one invisible to the naked eye and identifiable only by the most sophisticated techniques of modern pathology.
--- but one of Caudwell’s secrets is that she uses both, in the cleverest of ways.

Links on the blog: Another Caudwell book. A pale green and silver evening dress is worn by this former Princess.

The picture is John Singer Sargent's La Carmencita.

Comments

  1. Moira - Oh, this is such a great series isn't it? I'm so glad you featured this novel. And without spoiling the story, I'll just say... I love the helicopter scene. And only Julia would get into that situation... ;-)

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    1. I know! I do love these books - the combination of unlikely plots which are strangely convincing, and excellent jokes, and extraordinary situations - she's pretty much unique.

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  2. It is clear I must get back to this series. Why is there never enough time to read all the books I want to read?

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    1. Yes, perhaps we should all agree to stop recommending all these great books to each other!

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  3. Never tried her, but maybe I should give her a go. Is it a long series?

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    1. only 4 books, and very good... not very noir-ish, but if you're going to read something like this - then read these ones!

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