Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Death in High Heels by Christianna Brand

published 1941, set a few years earlier







[Victoria and Rachel, employees at a dress-shop where there has been a murder, are indulging in some light detection with the charming young policeman]

Rachel said doubtfully, “Toria says that as it’s so frightfully important and mysterious we could let you in with one of our keys.”

Charlesworth picked them up at Rachel’s flat, two

excited figures in summer frocks and swinging big straw hats; Victoria’s blue eyes were shining, her pale hair glinted in the light of the street lamps – she looked like a dryad, strayed from a woodland into the London streets. She wriggled into the seat beside Charlesworth, and her hair brushed his cheek as she turned to speak to Rachel behind them. His heart melted within him; the determined young detective gave way to the love-lorn young man. “This is hell,” he thought… “I never knew it could be so bad as this…”



observations: I re-read this book in the hopes that it would have many a splendid outfit suitable for blogposts, but in fact such descriptions were thin on the ground – a let-down. It was Brand’s first book: she was working in a dress shop and supposedly hated it, and wrote the book to get away, imagining the death of a disliked colleague (though that all sounds like publishers’ guff – ‘shopgirl writes book’).

It is not the best murder story ever: there is far too much of this:

What about Irene? Could Aileen have left Judy and come back to the flats? But if so, how could she have got access to Irene’s room? Gregory had had both keys; could Victoria be protecting Aileen? Was that whom Irene was telling lies to save?
-- but the setting in the dress shop is fun, and you can see the start of the talent that will produce the wonderful Green for Danger (which would be one of my top 10 ever detective stories - blog entry here) four years later.

The heavy-handed and of-its-time satirical portrayal of the effeminate dress designer, Mr Cecil, makes the modern reader wince. But Brand can be amusing: Irene comes from ‘a cathedral city and she had a deep distrust for the artistic temperament.’ The owner of the shop, Mr Bevan, is worried how the staff will look at the funeral of the victim: “I should only need a fat cigar to look like a theatrical manager arriving with the season’s bunch of sweeties, fresh from their triumphs at Monte Carlo.”

At the funeral - sociological detail - the women wear sober colours but not black, although black gloves are deemed essential, and one of them is ‘ripping the gay green feathers off a hat’ as she gets ready.

The 1930 play Nine Till Six was set in a similar dress shop, and gave us two fascinating entries last year – the women there worked in ‘slips’, as discussed in the entry, whereas the women in Brand’s shop definitely have blue satin overalls. Another Brand murder story, London Particular, is here on the blog.


One photo is from the Dovima is devine photostream. The other is from the Clover vintage Tumblr.



10 comments:

  1. Who stole the lampshades?
    FYI - I have obtained a copy of GFD after your recent post. Can't decide whether to read this or my Hilda Lawrence first (no rush - not for another 6 months at least!)

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    1. Yes, I can see the resemblance - I must have been subconsciously remembering a recent newspaper-invented-furore over Keira Knightley resembling a lampshade. I do hope you enjoy those two books...

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  2. Moira - Yes, this does sound a bit superficial in places. Still, I do like that little bit of wit, and I can imagine how someone who hated her job would write a novel to escape. And a dress shop is a fun setting!

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    1. Sometimes you need a book just for fun, and this is ideal. She wrote it during the WW2, and perhaps was remembering a time when life seemed simpler.

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  3. I love Christiana Brand's 'Green for Danger' so I must look out for this one. Lovely picture as usual.

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    1. I do always enjoy Christianna Brand, even when she wasn't at her peak.

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  4. The photos are great. I am glad I never had to wear clothes like those, however nice they look on these models. I too liked Green for Danger, and I have one more book by this author to try (Tour de Force), but I am not sure I am that fond of Brand's writing. I shall see.

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    1. I find that they are very recognisable in style, but still very different from each other. There is a collection of short stories by her that I liked (though usually I avoid those) but it is v expensive to buy 2nd hand. I shall keep looking.

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  5. Ngaio Marsh once worked in a dress shop - I wish she'd used it as a setting!

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    1. I didn't know that, but yes, she'd have rocked that wouldn't she....?

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