[A rather grand dinner at a country house]
Hugh… demanded to be told why the notorious Miss Fanshawe was not present.
‘She’s going to make an Entrance,’ replied Mary gloomily. ‘I had one or two things to see to after I’d changed, so I hadn’t time to find out what her role is for tonight. She was a femme fatale last night, but I shouldn’t think she’ll repeat herself quite so soon.’
She was right. Vicky, entering the room five minutes later, was dressed in a wispy frock of startling design, and still more startling abbreviations. She displayed, without reserve, a remarkably pretty back, her frock being suspended round her neck by a plait of the material of which it was made. Her curls stood out in a bunch in the nape of her neck, but were swept severely off her brow and temples. A diamond bracelet, begged from Ermyntrude’s collection, encircled one ankle under a filmy stocking, and her naturally longer lashes were ruthlessly tinted with blue.
‘One of the Younger Set,’ said Mary knowledgeably.
observations: For the second time this month: Rich Westwood, Mr Past Offences himself, does a roundup each month on his blog of Classic Crime in the Blogosphere, a meme in which Clothes in Books is proud to make regular appearances. In June, he suggested that prospective participants do a 1963 book – see the fascinating results here. The July year (chosen by ME) is 1939: I covered a John Dickson Carr book a week ago, and this is my second entry for the month.
This is a good, entertaining, Golden Age mystery – very funny and clever. It is not too difficult to guess who committed the murder (once a certain legal point has been cleared up) but the method would be much harder to guess, and seems extraordinarily unlikely. But never mind: the main reason to resurrect the book is the character above, Vicky Fanshawe, who is hilarious. She is the daughter of the big house, with an ex-actress mother, and a considerable fortune in her future. She is not the heroine: that is sensible nice Mary, who gets rather annoyed with Vicky, whose life, as you can see above, is one long succession of roles: Sonia the Spy, Tennis Girl, A Notorious Woman. Vicky enters into her roles with gusto, and it is pure joy for the reader. Heyer resisted the temptation of making her a nitwit – she is actually very clever, manages everything very well, and is a kind good person. She is a wonderful creation. The scene where she plots (three steps ahead of everyone else) to stop her mother considering a foreign Prince as her next husband is an epic masterpiece. As Vicky says, in one of her typically fabulous turns of phrase, she had to do it because ‘it would be fatal for [Mother] just to trickle away to some frightful person on the boundary.’
Heyer is best known for her Regency romances, and sometimes while reading this you half-expect the entire cast to move to Bath, have an attack of the vapours or give each other sharp set-downs. But what occurs to the reader of both her series, is that her romance books often had strong plots with crime, clues and jeopardy involved, while her murder stories (see another one here on the blog) contain romances. One can only hope that Vicky’s eventual partner will appreciate her many elaborate roles.
Highly recommended, but more for the cleverness and comedy than the detection. And there is nothing in the book, not one word, that relates or limits it to 1939. It could have been produced any time in the previous 20 years, has no political or international content at all, and you would never guess from reading it that the world was about to fall into a giant pit....
The picture is from Dovima is Devine.