[Laura] climbed back into the car, pulled the heavy, deep-purple stole with its mink tails, which John had bought her in Paris, off the back seat and put it across her knees. He had found a scarf that, by being several shades darker, perfectly complemented the purple suit she was now wearing. The memory warmed her more than the stole, and, slightly cheered, she released the brake. Perhaps she could make it down the mountain before full dark set in.
The memory of receiving the scarf warmed her in two ways: in gratitude and embarrassment. The yard or so of magnificent wool had been the occasion for one of their idiotic quarrels, and, as she admitted to herself, the quarrel had been, as usual, rooted in her childish ungraciousness.
observations: Later in the book – this excerpt is from the opening pages – it becomes crucially important that Laura has red hair of a very unusual and distinctive shade, but early on there is only a passing reference to her behaving ‘in a very red-headed fashion.’
She is going to disappear on a mountain road on the way to Geneva. A naked body is then going to turn up in a trunk in a small village in Norfolk – an admirable conjunction showing Roth’s strange combination of rural police procedural, international suspense, and romance thriller. And throw in courtroom drama when her fiancé (John who gave her the scarf) is tried for her murder.
The body in the trunk (whose journey is tracked in perhaps unnecessary detail) is wearing an ankle bracelet: in the 1970s this would have been seen as a sign of immorality where I come from, but nobody seems to think that in the book.
There’s an interesting comment on national differences in passing: ‘[English] housewives bought inferior tomatoes at tuppence a pound more, because … they carried a proud sign: ‘English’. An American had told him that Americans automatically chose an imported object, on the sensible theory that it would not have been imported if it were not in some way better.’ All untrue on many grounds now, but a nice snapshot of the time.
In this book, as in at least one of her others, a character falls from a yacht to his death: a strange coincidence, as that is how Roth herself was to die.
Roth wrote a number of thrillers in 1950s (strangely she’s one of the few authors who doesn’t seem to be listed either on Wikipedia or on the excellent Fantastic Fiction site) – they are tense and very fast-moving. And – big plus – they are short.
It’s surprising that she is so forgotten now, as she was very successful in her day. With so many books being republished cheaply in e-formats perhaps she will be rediscovered – the books are easy to read and enjoyable.
The picture is from Vogue, via the wonderful Clover Vintage tumblr.