Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Tuesday Night Club: Phoebe Atwood Taylor




Our Tuesday Night Bloggers – an informal group of crime fiction fans writing about a different author each month – have moved on to Phoebe Atwood Taylor. She’s not an author I know well, and haven’t had time to catch up on her yet. So for now I am republishing a blogpost that originally appeared here in 2013.

All contributions to the meme are welcome – and if anyone wants to guest-blog here on Taylor do let me know, there’s space here…

The Cape Cod Mystery by Phoebe Atwood Taylor


published 1931


Cape Cod Mystery


[Summer visitor Prudence and local man Asey have joined forces to solve a crime, and Asey has been hit by a suspect]

“…You’re all covered with blood, Asey. And something ought to be bound round your head.”

Feeling a little like a Revolutionary War heroine, the kind who were always bandaging people up with their underthings, I lifted my skirt, took a nail file from my pocketbook and with it tore the hem from my white silk petticoat. As I tied up his head I reflected that Betsey would now have no reason to scoff at my petticoats for some time to come…

[Later on, Prudence says:] “oughtn’t someone look after your head?”

“It’ll be all right. I forgot to say I guess the doctor kind of recognized that petticoat.”

“What?”

“Yup. I’m kind of ‘fraid your ‘scutcheon is goin’ to suffer a blot or two from this day’s goin’s-on.”

“Well,” I said resignedly, “no one talks about escutcheons till there’s a blot on them anyway.”


commentary: Crime fiction blogger Margot Kinberg (see her terrific regular musings at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist) put me onto this book, the first of a classic American series. It’s a true Golden Age adventure, but one that has worn well – full of smart talk, and class divisions that seem extraordinary to us now. Asey Mayo the hired man – who is clever, entertaining and solves the crime – calls his co-conspirator ‘Miss Prue’, and tells her he’ll be happier in the kitchen. But at least he isn’t just a comic and idiotic servant, as found in so many books of the era, and he’s a great character. His finest moment comes when he gets hold of a child’s police fancy dress costume, so he can use the fake badge to fool a suspect into thinking he’s an official investigator.


The heroine/narrator is 50, which again makes a nice change from Bright Young Things or Miss Marples investigating crimes. (On the downside, she is known as Snoodles to her friends, but we can try to ignore that.) This cheerful tearing of the petticoat is fun – the doctor who looks at Asey’s head is also glimpsed in white knickers (he wears them ‘most of the time’). It is always such a 
disappointment to UK readers that this means knickerbockers, not underwear.


And then there’s this: early on, Prudence is looking at the view:
The oyster-shell lane that led from the cottage down the hill past the tennis courts shone like a piece of white satin ribbon. I remembered that Betsey’s impractical underclothing needed new straps.

How lovely. The picture – of Lillian Gish, from the Bain Collection at the Library of Congress – is a combination of the two quotations.

10 comments:

  1. Thanks for this review, as I think I also have this book in my TBR and by the sounds of it, it seems quite different in some respects to the Taylor novel I read for TNB this week.

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    1. I must read more of them! I have been very reliable on TNB, but I think this month I may have to back off a little. But will still be interested to read everyone else's.

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  2. Thanks so much for the kind mention, Moira. I'm so glad you enjoyed this one as much as you did. It is a great GA story, I think. And you're right about Asey Mayo. He may respect those social class barriers, but he has quite a lot of wisdom and he's shrewd and smart. What I like, too, is that Prudence knows that about him, and in her own way overcomes those boundaries. There's some solid wit in this novel, too, like the way Proudence reacts to the many, many requests to visit her at her summer place. I loved that.

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    1. I was glad you pointed me in the direction of this author, Margot - thanks! and must really read more of her. In this book I really liked the narrator's distinctive voice.

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  3. I read and reviewed this one, but don't remember much about it. I enjoyed it but not sure how much more I will read in the series. I have four others in the series, so I guess I should read more of them.

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    1. I will certainly read more - I did like the book. I have one lined up, and will stick with that for the moment.

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  4. Moira, I'm afraid I had never heard of Phoebe Atwood Taylor until now. So thanks for spotlighting her book. The above extract suggests humour in her writing and that is always welcome.

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    1. Yes, I know exactly what you mean Prashant. I think she was one of those writers whose reputation didn't spread outside her home country - she was well known in the USA but perhaps not elsewhere.

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  5. The 'Codfish Sherlock'! About six or seven years ago someone pointed me in the direction of Taylor and I tried to find some of her books. At the time I was visiting Hay-on-Wye fairly regularly and was certain of finding some copies. After two days I had found only one book. Read it, enjoyed it, pretty much forgot about it until this post, after which I checked the internet and found scores of second-hand copies of her books. Looks like I'm going to have to buy some more of these at some point and add them to my immense To Be Read pile. The one that I read was later on in the series and far more screwball in approach (which I like). I'm surprised at how little known she is now, but I'm also surpised at how both Hollywood and TV have never come calling, given that the series would seem to be a natural to adapt.

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    1. That's a very good point - a distinctive and attractive setting and the codfish Sherlock, you'd think it would be a no-brainer. As I say above, she must have not 'travelled' in her writing years - it's only now that we can find things so easily via the internet that she has become better-known.
      Now, you need to think about casting for a TV version...

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