Tuesday Night Club: Jane and Dagobert

 
 
As it’s the first month of a new year, the Tuesday Night bloggers, a group of crime fiction fans doing a themed entry each week, have chosen ‘firsts’, a nice wide-ranging topic.Firsts logo

As ever, Bev at My Reader’s Block did the splendid logo.

And Kate at Cross-Examining Crime is collecting the links this month.

In Week 1 I looked at the first Dr Fell mystery by John Dickson Carr, Hag’s Nook

In Week 2 I blogged on the first book by American writer Mary McMullen.

In Week 3 I went back in time to look at a classic of German literature, Kleist’s Marquise of O.

In week 4 I chose to feature the first appearance of Patricia Wentworth’s Miss Silver.

This week I took the opportunity to read the first book in Delano Ames’ Jane and Dagobert mystery series.
 

She Shall Have Murder by Delano Ames


published 1948

 
 
She Shall Have Murder 4She Shall have Murder 1
 

[Jane has been caught at the murder scene with her boyfriend and fellow-sleuth, Dagobert, who is in disguise.]

I was aware that the tableau presented to our junior partner’s eyes needed a little explanation. Miss Hamish, a picture of respectable legal efficiency in her neat tailored suit, black gloves, and restrained hat, made a reasonably conventional figure in the foreground. What did not fit into the scene so well was the unshaven workman sprawled on the bed beside me, flicking cigarette ash over the rich red velvet counterpane in the vague direction of his muddy boots.

I couldn’t think of any very convincing explanation for this, so I said nothing.


 
commentary: I’ve read, and blogged on, several of this series, and was glad to have a good excuse to read the first one. My good friend Tracy over at Bitter Tea and Mystery reviewed this one last year, and I am very jealous of her mapback edition showing all the London locations of the book. (Col of the Criminal Library read a different Ames book, and said that was enough.) Apparently, She Shall Have Murder was made into a film in 1950 – it sounds like a real British B-movie, and seems to be impossible to get hold of. I would love to see it.

Because I enjoyed this book hugely – in fact more than subsequent entries in the series. Later works have Jane and Dagobert travelling around and encountering murder in exotic locations – the South of France, the Pyrenees, New Mexico. This one was very firmly grounded in post-War London, and I thought the setting was knowledgeable and well-done. Jane works in a solicitor’s office - it’s not clear what her job is, a junior clerk perhaps. She is definitely superior to the typist, and seems to have quite a lot of responsibility. I said about another of the books:
Jane is supposedly writing a murder story based on the events in the book, and this was rather meta and very annoying.
And this was true of this one too, you’d think someone would have told Ames to ditch this idea along the way.

There is a murder, and it looks as though one of the people in the office must be responsible. The characters are well-defined and well-dressed (I particularly liked the precocious and shady office boy in his wideboy outfits) and have endearing faults and imperfections. There’s a nice Freudian interpretation of what people forget… I wondered if there was any significance in the fact that every time Jane asks for something to drink she is given something other than what she asks for.

And talking of drink – recently on the blog we had a most enjoyable discussion of roadhouses. Some of us (you know who you are, Chrissie) admitted to a ridiculous and most unrealistic pang for the idealized glamour, which we know is probably imaginary…

Well there’s one here:
The Cairo Club on the Great West Road is a peculiarly garish roadhouse, frequented by men in sporty cars and girls with Veronica Lake hairdos. They have the noisiest dance-band for its size in the UK, a real slap-up soda fountain, and brilliant neon lighting.
-where Jane and Dagobert go for a double-date with a pair of suspects. Splendid stuff, although the soda fountain sounds an unlikely touch. The décor of the club is very satisfyingly described:
Green Egyptian columns with their spangled lotus-leaf capitals picked out in pillar-box red and tiny hexagons of mirror glass, which supported a ceiling of startling blue in which real stars appeared to twinkle.
I thought Ames on the whole did a female narrator very well, I was impressed by some of her gendered comments, despite occasional pre-feminist moments, very much of their time.

It was interesting to compare the working life of women with my Tuesday Night Firsts book set in a NY ad agency around the same time, Mary McMullen’s Stranglehold. And I’m very fond of Michael Gilbert’s 1950 Smallbone Deceased, set in a law office and also featuring some good female characters.

Jane’s outfit above (‘Miss Hamish’ is her referring to herself in the third person) probably looked more like the left-hand one, which is from 1951 so a little later, but I liked the right hand picture as truly representing Jane the sleuth – it’s from 1949. Both from Clover Vintage Tumblr.

Jane goes out wearing her ‘Molyneux-type’ evening dress – meaning a cheap knock-off of the designer’s work. So this is a picture of the real thing, from 1947:



She Shall Have Murder 2


Patricia Ferguson’s wonderful Aren’t We Sisters a few years ago (set in the 1930s) featured a Molyneux suit like the one below, along with some discussion of whether it was real or a knock-off…

 
She Shall have Murder 3
 

I realize I haven’t said much about murder, plot or investigation – they were all perfectly fine and unmemorable (I’m sure I’ll be able to read this again in a few years without remembering who did it.) If anything I’m more interested in one unresolved mystery: Jane and Dagobert are not married, and live in separate bed-sitting rooms in the same house. Twice I thought there was a very strong (but not spelled out) implication that they were sleeping together…





























Comments

  1. Oh, that is an interesting mystery, Moira. Perhaps it wasn't all spelled out because of the times? Hmm.... At any rate, this sounds like a really effective look at a place and a time, even if the mystery wasn't the most memorable you've ever read. I've actually really been enjoying this focus on firsts...

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    1. Yes, Margot, it really was - it had a very real feel to it, and I loved being immersed in that atmosphere. He was a good writer.

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  2. Glad you enjoyed this. Jane and Dagobert are a favourite sleuth couple of mine. I hadn't really cottoned on to the whole living in the same house but not married aspect. Equally hadn't realised there was a film of the book. Such a shame it isn't easy to get a hold of as like you I definitely want to watch it. It is also a shame that so many of the books are hard to track down. The first three are easy enough to find and the fourth took me a lot of effort and false starts. But after that book 5 is definitely eluding me, except for some very pricey copies indeed online. Would be great if they could reprint the Ames' work more comprehensively.

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    1. I know - such a shame the film isn't around, we could both have watched it and done a joint review! I'm surprised no-one is reprinting them - I think they'd be popular. Good luck with book 5!

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    2. After reading your comment about the film I immediately went to imdb to check on it. There's an entry for the film with very little else but the cast listing and a few other credits (Delano Ames is credited with working on the script). There was no synopsis and only one comment --- complaining that it was impossible to find this film! The commenter was a Derrick De Marney (fan who played Dagobert).

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    3. I know, such a shame it's lost. I love a good old-fashioned b/w thriller, and I think this book must have made an excellent one.

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  3. This sounds like a fun read. I've never come across anyone called Dagobert so just googled it. Wikipedia tells me there were several Frankish kings called Dagobert, and it's also what Timmy the dog from the Famous Five is called in French translation. I find it a bit unsettling when I read a book and don't know how to pronounce the name of one of the characters in my head (I was all wrong on Mr Urquhart in Strong Poison on first reading but I was only ten).

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    1. Solid gold fact about the Famous 5 dog, love it. In fact (because of this series) in our house we occasionally use Dagobert to mean 'whatsisface, you-know-who-I-mean', and the name has become attached to a perfectly normal young man whose name is actually Richard.
      Yes - not just names either. I have always read so much that there are many words that I am very familiar with, but haven't ever used in conversation. Sliver and sidereal - both pronounced wronly by me...

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  4. I am very glad you liked this, Moira. It was one of my favorite reads last year. I remember that Kate had said there were problems finding copies of some of the books at a reasonable price. Too bad. I also wondered about the name Dagobert, good to have some information about it.

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    1. I think it was your review that pushed me into getting hold of it Tracy, and I'm very glad I did - apart from fitting nicely into our 'Firsts' category. I really enjoyed it.

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  5. And so he wearily added another book to the 'Must Find And Read List...' Really, though, this sounds fascinating. The immediately Post WWII setting is one that I find interesting, as the preferred setting of a lot of stories tends to be either the War or the 'Fifties. The Carr novels set in this time tend to accentuate both the slightly dazed, unreal feel of the era and the sweaty, grimy austerity, so this sounds like an interesting alternative. Interested to hear that Ames captures the female heroine so well. He was apparently in Intelligence during WWII, and I suppose that it required him to be able to understand other peoples viewpoint..

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    1. Sorry about that! I wondered if he had a co-writer - his grasp of women's thoughts (some of the time) is very convincing. But it doesn't seem particulaly that he had a woman helper...

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  6. I'll get one of the Ames books eventually, you'll see :)

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    1. Worth a look, worth it to keep tabs on the era!

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  7. Moira, I still haven't read Delano Ames. I quite like the characterisation of Jane and Dagobert as well as the exotic settings for the crimes they investigate.

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    1. They are less annoying than most couple-sleuths, that's for sure Prashant.

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  8. Does sound rather good (and if there's a road-house . . .) There were words I didn't know how how to pronounce, too, though I was familiar with them in print. Heinous was one.

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    1. This was a proper roadhouse, Chrissie, full of glamour and excitement! We would be a sensation there.
      Mishap is another of mine.

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