Monday, 10 March 2014

The King and the Corpse by Max Murray

published 1949







[Anthony Tolworth finds his aunt sun-bathing on a beach in the south of France]

‘Aunt Ethel,’ he said… ‘I’ll buy you a drink.’

She heaved herself up and staggered giddily with the effort. From the sand she picked up a flowered cretonne beach-robe which she donned with the maximum of satisfaction.

‘I bought this in Dulwich,’ she said.

‘I shouldn’t like to condemn Dulwich on one mistake, however glaring. Don’t you think it would look smarter just carried over the arm?’

‘It covers my altogether prepossessing thighs,’ she said. ‘That is what I bought it for.’

Anthony sighed gently and took her arm. He placed her inconspicuously in a corner of the terrace, not, he told her, because he was not proud of her personality, but the Dulwich kimono might get the restaurant a bad name.

She grinned… and modestly tucked in her beach-robe. ‘I know, by experience, that no establishment frequented by any member of the Tolworth family could possibly have a worse name.’





observations: In a stylistic (and not at all judgemental) mood, I wonder if that should read ‘not altogether prepossessing’ – or else ‘unprepossessing’?

Very recently the blog featured Matthew Sweet’s marvellous West End Front, and its chapter on rootless European Royals in London during WW2. That reminded me of anecdotes I had heard about the Albanian King Zog and his entourage on the Riviera. And that reminded me of this murder story, read many years ago, which deals with an imaginary, rather Ruritanian, King Rudolph III of Althenia. He is in exile: a young, handsome, unmarried fellow (his mother says ‘the people would almost certainly have called him Rudolph the Golden and names like that are so important in a monarchy’), accompanied by his British friend Anthony, the hero.

The lady above, Aunt Etheldra, many years ago, on a previous beach holiday, ‘fell in love with a romantic young man whom I later discovered to be the assistant of the old woman who hired out the donkeys… your uncle caught me on the rebound.’

There is murder, potential scandal, and a Casino setting – in this entry I concluded sadly that modern casinos aren’t really glamorous, and that it is difficult to find pictures of them, but in books of the mid-20th century they were always dramatic, upmarket, glittering and cosmopolitan.

The book is funny, but this one worked for me, unlike Pamela Branch’s comedy murder story The Wooden Overcoat (rude remarks in recent entry). I liked the minor character saying ‘Below the age of 30 you are merely broke. Beyond that age you are poor, which is a different thing entirely.’

The story-arc of the King and his country bears no relation to reality – see Sweet’s book for less happy tales. One thinks also of blog favourite Nancy Mitford - not the epitome of brutal realism but busy telling us of Royals who are ‘wanted by the police in France and not much wanted anywhere else’, especially not in their own countries.

The Queen Mother here tells us that they always had the curtains drawn at night at home ‘but that of course was to prevent tiresome people from shooting at us.’

‘Anarchists, not our own happy people’ says a diplomatic statesman hastily, whose job is to ‘whitewash’ the Royal House – ‘he must be a busy man’ someone else comments.

The picture shows playclothes that can be made from Simplicity patterns, in case you can’t get to that shop in Dulwich.

10 comments:

  1. I think I'll be able to cope without this one in my life, glad you enjoyed it though. I'm up in London later in the week........Dulwich here I come

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Look forward to your posting a pic of yourself in your new beach kimono.

      Delete
  2. Moira - Oh, this does appeal to me. I love that remark about the difference between being broke and being poor. Very telling and witty too. The setting got my attention too. Casinos can be great contexts (or partial contexts) for a mystery. And I couldn't agree with you more; they used to be much more glamorous than they are now.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Yes, I think it has just what you want in a certain kind of Golden Age mystery: some wit, an exotic setting, and the glamour of the casino...

    ReplyDelete
  4. Why do you do this to me? I don't need another author to read. However, these can be found for reasonable prices and they are set in various locations. Very intriguing. I might not like the humorous aspects but I shall have to try one and see.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I know, sorry, but you do the same to me! There are quite a few of these books, as you say, and I'm definitely thinking I'll read more.

      Delete
  5. This sounds liek great fun actually - as for the thighs, well, I'll have to get back to you on that one ...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Perhaps the thighs of respectable middle-aged women are not an appropriate topic. It is a most enjoyable book though.... very much of its time and genre.

      Delete
  6. Moira: I loved the photos. They are perfect for the text. The clothes are far more stylish than almost all the beach wear I saw while sitting on the beach in the Bahamas for the past week. The young women were barely dressed. The mature, I dare not say older, women except for Sharon were content with plain cover ups. Flair has left the beach. Reading your blog has got me looking more closely at clothing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Bill for those kind words! I was rather taken with them myself, and I know what you mean about some modern beachwear....

      Delete