Tuesday, 26 April 2016

She Died Young by Elizabeth Wilson



published 2016


She Died Young 2 The London hostess familiarly known to her friends as Reggie, took Charles’ arm as they paced the length of Longwall. She liked to be seen in the company of a good-looking man and Charles, only slightly taller than she, fulfilled the role perfectly…

‘You’re looking marvellous, anyway,’ said Charles. ‘Very Pre-Raphaelite, this coat really suits you. So good with red hair – marvellous scent, too. Chanel Gardenia, isn’t it?’

‘How clever of you, darling.’ Few men She Died Young 3noticed things the way he did. They’d say you smelled lovely or looked beautiful, but they weren’t interested in the creation of the illusion. That was actually just as well. Yet it was amusing to parler chiffons with a man who had taste. ‘I’m so glad you like the coat. I simply had to have a mauve coat – not purple, you know, violet – and I couldn’t find one anywhere. I had it made specially in the end. William was furious. Such extravagance! And do you like the scarf? She pulled it forward over her collar.
 
commentary: I was sent this book by the publisher and it is very beautiful – absolutely gorgeous cover, and very satisfying to hold (especially for someone who does a lot of reading on Kindle these days.)

It is the fourth of a series of crime novels Elizabeth WilsonShe Died Young 1 has written about 1940s and 50s England and Europe recovering from the Second World War. There are links and common characters in the books, but it is quite possible to read this as a standalone – I have read one of the previous books, and earlier plots are mentioned but not enough to make you feel excluded.

This time it is 1956, the time of Suez and the Hungarian Revolution. We follow a number of characters: a policeman and a journalist both investigating the seamy side of London gangland, the society hostess above, a number of students and academics at Oxford University. There is also a set of Hungarian refugees in Oxford. There have been a couple of deaths, and the search for the truth takes characters to Notting Hill, to night clubs, to a shady hotel, to a madam’s flat, to student lodgings, to the cafes of Oxford.

It was a very easy read, keeping up the interest and tension well. The policeman and the journalist didn’t seem different enough to me, but there was a real attempt to create the atmosphere and the book – although inclined to show off its research a bit too much – was full of authentic detail. I found the Hungarian aspect to be particularly interesting and convincing.

There was an odd tendency of characters to do strange and inexplicable things (Charles, above, blurting something out to the policeman; Sonia making a phonecall).

By coincidence, at the same time I was reading another crime story, set in 1955 and written and published in 1956. The difference between the two books is quite comical: to be fair, they were different kinds of crime story, but the 1956 one couldn’t have been less interested in contemporary events, or details of life at the time. (And if there had been a character like Charles, readers would not automatically have been assuming – as we do – that he must be gay.) More in a later post….

The woman in the coat is from a few years later, and you can tell, but I liked her coat and the other one too – which is mohair. Both from Kristine’s photostream. They are certainly not mauve, but I would myself call them violet. But then I’d call them purple as well… I don’t have the same eye for colour as Reggie. Coats for the sadly-missed Prince.









19 comments:

  1. Sadly missed, indeed, Moira. The writing style of this one certainly seems nicely-flowing and easy. And I always respect an author who can tie a series together, but not so tightly that you can't enter it at various points. Sounds like a solid look at the times, too.

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    1. Yes, and there's a good strong plot and plenty of interesting characters. I think this series will continue for a while...
      And yes, Prince: we won't see his like again.

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  2. I especially like the second coat. But neither of these is purple, Moira, in my view: not enough red in them.

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    1. I honestly think I have a problem with those purple/maroon/reddish colours, I don't see them as others do and can't distinguish them properly!

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    2. I think they're both definitely purple. They're not blue, and they're not red. The top one looks to me to be a very nice clear violet - it's neither blue-violet nor red-violet,but somewhere in between. The second one is what I would think of as Cadbury purple.

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    3. Cadbury purple! Nothing could more endear me to a colour than the thought of chocolate... I do really start getting confused with these colours, I can't sort them out in my mind, or pick out if they haver red or blue tones...

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    4. I love Cadbury purple as a description - almost everyone knows exactly what shade of purple that is, it's useful to have something that's such a solid point of reference when describing purple - perhaps one of the toughest colours to pin down.

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    5. It is perfect, and I can use it myself with confidence. Does this show that I am better with chocolate than colours? Yes probably.

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    6. Oh, I've suddenly had a vision of linking Cadbury Purple with Milky Bar cream, I always thought that a lovely shade...

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  3. Is this Elizabeth Wilson the fashion historian and theorist?

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    1. Yes I think it is - this is her author bio at the publishers https://serpentstail.com/elizabeth-wilson.html

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  4. African violet! I remember the page of Vogue... It came in several shades and went with "gunmetal" leather handbags. The flowers were popular too, as pot plants.

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    1. I can see it with the gunmetal, even though (as I say above) I am not too good on these shades. And yes, the plants...

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  5. My wife and I do often argue about what colour something is (to the point of her telling me that I'm colour blind!). The coat on the left looks purple to me,whilst the one on the right looks violet. Colour seems to be a very personal thing, and it's impossible to be sure that other people see the same colour that you do.

    I was watching a documentary about those ITC adventure series from the 60s, and they said that the makers were asked to make sure that fashions and furnishings were not too much at the 'cutting edge'. Nor were they to refer to current events. The idea was to make sure that if the series were sold abroad or repeated in a few years time, it would not look too dated. I suppose that the same thing is true with printed genre fiction. I've been looking back at a favourite crime series of mine, the Peter Diamond books of Peter Lovesey. The character is a middle-aged Detective in charge of the Bristol Murder Squad, and he's been middle-aged for the last quarter of a century. The books seem to exist in a sort of eternal present, where there is a vague sense that time has passed since the first novel, but not that the first book took place in the 1990s. The books only obliquely reference real-life events, which helps them to keep current. With Historical Fiction you have the opposite problem. You're trying to convince the reader that they are in 1571 or 1991, so you have to bash them over the head with facts that really nail it to the time that it's set in.

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    1. Yes, that's very true, none of us knows what others are seeing, and there was that famous meme of the dress last year.
      I hadn't noticed that about the Lovesey books but I'm sure you're right, and it works fine in the right hands, if cleverly done. I'm a terrible pedant for seeing that things are out of time when people write about the past, mistakes trip me up and really do mar my enjoyment. But I think I'm quite happy with a book being set in a vauge 'now'.

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  6. Thanks Moira - so true about what hindsight brings - Graham Greene is one of the few authors I can think of who could write topical books and yet seem forward looking at the same time!

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    1. I'll have to think about Graham Greene now, in the light of that. I remember reading Travels with My Aunt many years ago, and being very impressed that Henry, living in London presumably in the late 60s, could dial a phone number and get a dinner delivered to his house. And I still don't know if that was feasible or as common as Greene made it sound. It was in the days of number/letter rotaries, and he had to dial the word CHICKEN. This has stuck in my mind ever since...

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  7. Very interesting. Several years ago I bought the first book in the series, having seen the 2nd one in hardback at the bookstore. Haven't read it yet. So I should do so.

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    1. I think I may have read the first one a while book, but don't remember much about it. Very atmospheric, I do remember that.

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