The door had been left open in an attempt to catch any passing breeze, and… a woman appeared and peeked in. Keith’s eyes popped, and he tried to keep his mouth from sagging. She was very tall with flaming red hair that curled up under an enormous cartwheel hat… the matching blue dress was so tight that it appeared that she must have been poured into it, and the plunging neckline had definitely gone out of bounds. Her sandals were a maze of narrow blue straps with the highest heels Keith had ever seen.
[Later] Greta greeted everybody with her customary “Hello, darlings,” and dropped into a chair.
“Don’t you feel naked?” Gladys asked her.
Greta glanced down at her white sun dress. It started at the shoulders, ended abruptly, and for quite a space there was nothing but Greta, then it came to life again in an enormous circular skirt. “It’s hot,” Greta explained defensively.
“I didn’t mean that, but you have no hat.”
commentary: After recent outings with ballet – see here and here – this book seemed to follow the thread. The shoes are definitely pink ballet shoes, and the corpse is found wearing them on his poor dead feet.
But ballet doesn’t feature at all – the shoes are just there to add weirdness, there’s no real significance. However, it was a good read anyway: the inhabitants of an old brownstone in New York, now divided into apartments, assemble for a memorably awful building party. Everyone is horrible to each other, and the constant calls for more drink make this worse not better. An attempt at a dire party game ends in more bad feeling. The next day one of the guests is found dead. A nice cop comes to investigate, along with the dead man’s nephew. The residents include (of course) two nice young women in the basement.
There’s not a great deal of detecting to do, and by the time there’s been another murder, and we have decided to eliminate certain people from suspicion, there aren’t many suspects left (this book really is a closed circle – there are just about no other characters: no colleagues or friends, no shopkeepers or even passing strangers, no unexpected witnesses).
But the clothes are great, the sparky and ill-natured conversations among the tenants are always enjoyable, and there are some funny moments:
“They married in haste and it fell apart almost right away.”
The two girls stared at her in astonishment. It seemed incredible that anyone should question a marriage of [X]’s breaking up.And
Keith took time out to observe that he disliked pigheaded women, and Greta reminded him that he was lucky to have a choice because the girls were faced with 100% pig-headedness in men.There’s one feature that I thought was unusual: we find out who the guilty party is, and then we get a full chapter of that person’s thoughts, explaining method and motive in an internal monologue. I’m sure there must be other examples of this in crime fiction, outside of first person narration, but I can’t think of any.
There is all kinds of interest in the book itself, as physical object.
I may have been mistaken in expecting some ballet content, but at least I read the book and discovered my mistake, which I don’t think the designer of this cover did. This picture bears no resemblance whatsoever to any aspect of the book, apart from the existence of pink shoes. HOWEVER - it is fabulous isn’t it? (The actual skull is missing, so I’m not sure if it would fit the collection of TracyK: shout out if you want it Tracy, and I will send it on.)
The wrap worn by the skeleton features a pink print: the repeated logo of the Doubleday Crime Club, who published the book.
The back cover contains a code of symbols by which you can tell what kind of crime book you are holding – in this case, big on character and atmosphere.
And - apparently Robert James was a pseudonym for Iris Little, an Australian writer with sisters (Constance and Gwynneth) who also wrote detective fiction. I recently featured comments by Leonard Holton on the differences between men and women’s crime fiction:
I'm not fond of bashing people around or shooting them, and casual sex I disagree with. On the other hand I have no real talent for the threads of detail which form the smooth and satisfactory web of the detective story as written by women writers.Death Wears Pink Shoes definitely reads like a combination of the two: it is tougher than that title would suggest.
Clothes from Kristine’s photostream and the Clover Vintage Tumbler.