Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Tuesday Night Club: Into the 1960s with Ngaio Marsh



The Tuesday Night Bloggers are a loose grouping of crime fiction fans who are choosing an author each month to write about - December’s author is Ngaio Marsh

This month, I have volunteered to collect links to the posts on my blog each week – so please tell me if you are taking part. I should add that all are welcome – there are no entry criteria and there is no commitment. If you just want to write one post about one book you will be as welcome as someone writing every week for a year – just join in and send us (me) the link.



Here are this week's links as they come in: 

Kate Jackson on The Collected Short Fiction of Ngaio Marsh

Noah Stewart on Book Scouting Ngaio Marsh - post 2 of 3

Bev Hankins looks at Colour Scheme

Helen Szamuely on Ngaio Marsh, the occult and related matters


Last week’s list is in this entry

Week one is here


Embarking on this project, I found that Ngaio Marsh had written 32 books from 1934 to 1982. I decided for the Tuesday Night Club that I would divide those neatly into four groups of 8, and pick one from each era. The first week I did Artists in Crime. Then I looked at Surfeit of Lampreys, AKA Death of a Peer. This week the book is Hand in Glove, from 1962.




Hand in Glove by Ngaio Mash
published 1962
 





 
Desiree wore black for her April Fool's party. On any other woman of her age it would have been a disastrous dress, but, by virtue of a sort of inward effrontery, she got away with it. Her neck, her bosom and that dismal little region known, unprettily, as the armpit were all so many statements of betrayal, but she triumphed over them and not so much took them in her own stride as she obliged other people to take them in theirs. With her incredible hair brushed up into a kind of bonfire, her carefree makeup, her eyeglass, and her general air of raffishness, she belonged, as Mr. Period mildly reflected, to Toulouse-Lautrec rather than to any contemporary background.




They had dined. The party had assembled, made a great deal of noise and gone off in pairs by car to follow up the clues. Bimbo was driving round the terrain to keep observation, rescue any couple that had become unintentionally lost and whip in the deliberate stragglers.

Everyone was to be in by midnight. Supper was set out in the ballroom, and in the meantime Desiree and Mr. Period sat over a fire in her boudoir enjoying coffee and brandy. It was, Mr. Period noticed, Desiree’s third brandy, but she carried her drink with astonishing bravura. He nursed his own modest potion and cozily lamented his fate.




commentary: Perhaps one should read the Marsh books in order, but I am jumping all over the place, and that seems fine. I read most of them 30+ years ago, and (unlike Agatha Christie’s books, which I know very well indeed) have never picked any of them up again. But I’m really enjoying going through them – they vary a lot in quality, but that’s true of most authors. I have found blogfriend Lucy Fisher very helpful: she knows the books well, and has some useful lists on her blog The Art of Words.

Occasionally you have to remind yourself of that fact that this one appeared in 1962 – most of it could easily have come from a much earlier era. The character above is excellent: She says about a picture of herself
‘I look like the third witch in Macbeth before she gave up trying to make the best of herself.’
And then talks about dancing with a caddish young man:
He was a superb dancer. Much too good… Like the really expensive gigolos used to be. He smells like them too: it quite took me back. I adored it.’
In a completely bizarre moment, she seems to be preparing to seduce our safe but posh policemen, Inspector Alleyn:
He knew, as certainly as if she had made the grossest of advances, that she was perfectly ready for an unconventional interlude.
Then she gives him an ‘ineffable look.’ Dear me.

[I cannot resist quoting here a clumsy sentence later on: Alleyn’s wife Troy is described thus:
Her shortish dark hair capped a spare head.
Perhaps Alleyn might be more seducable than expected with a two-headed wife.]

There is also a splendid forensic moment when the local Superintendent borrows his wife’s vacuum cleaner to do a bit of hoovering on a suspect’s clothes, to get the shreds of evidence. CSI it isn’t.

The plot strand that really pulled me in, though, was that one of the characters was writing an etiquette book. In the long-lost past, Clothes in Books wrote an etiquette book, so I was hoping for lots of detail of this feature, but sadly it rather fades into the background. It is just another way of showing that the writer concerned must be rather snobbish.

So – not Marsh’s finest, but some enjoyable social background, some strange characters, and a moderately interesting plot…

Top picture is Woman in a black dress by Anders Zorn, athenaeum website.

The description of the appearance (not the character) of Desiree did sound like fashion maven and Vogue star Grace Coddington, in the 2nd picture.

Third one is a great blog favourite: by William Orpen, called Bridgit, a Picture of Miss Elvery, and can be found on Wikimedia Commons.

There have been two other entries on the blog from this third era of Marsh’s writing life, which lasts from 1953 to 1966:

Scales of Justice 1955

Singing in the Shrouds 1958

12 comments:

  1. I love that line about the third witch in Macbeth, Moira! It's priceless! Marsh was especially well known, as you know, for her unusual characters, so it doesn't surprise me that you found that to be the appeal here. And as you say, great social commentary. Thanks for the reminder of it.

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    1. Yes, some of her books were less than top-rank in terms of crime fiction, but you can't fault her in terms of great characters and, usually, very amusing dialogue.

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  2. Still not feeling it Moira, an author I may take a permanent rain-check on.

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  3. I've always wanted to read Mr Pyke Period's etiquette book.

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    1. I always want to read all etiquette books - I have quite the collections - but yes this would be a good one. It's a pity she didn't give us little samples.

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  4. You wrote a book on etiquette, Moira? Tell us more.

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    1. Part of my mysterious past! In the early 90s I wrote a book of modern etiquette, and then did another edition of it 10 years later. Those were the days - people were worried about how to address Xmas cards to unmarried couples, and about telephone answering machines. I had a good time being something of a radio expert, and occasionally on TV, giving (I'm sure) unwanted advice on the subject...

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  5. They are such a window into the past, aren't they? I read one as a teenager in the 60s and how to get out of a sports car without showing your knickers is what I mostly remember.

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    1. Well that IS very important of course... I read loads of them and what was obvious was that most people were making it up out of their own prejudices, so I didn't see why I shouldn't have a go myself...

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  6. First, I don't know how I missed commenting on this post, I have definitely visited it several times. But the most important part is I nearly missed the comment on you writing a book on etiquette. I do remember when one read and paid attention to (at least a bit) rules of etiquette. How cool.

    Getting back to the book, this one sounds OK, I may read it. I think I have said here -- many times -- that I have all of Marsh's books but I recently discovered that I only have 26 of the 32. Or thereabouts. Not a tragedy, and I must be missing some in the last half, because I was reading them in order for a year or so.

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    1. I wrote it in the early 90s - it was supposed to be 'modern etiquette', so less about Downton Abbey and more about modern life - answering machines, sofabeds, and how to address a couple who didn't have the same name. It was a really fun thing to do, and it is a subject which appeals to a lot of people, they worry (unnecessarily in my view) that they aren't doing the right thing - my job was to reassure them, I always said.

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