Sunday, 7 August 2016

Dress Down Sunday: Whistle up the Devil by Derek Smith

 

published 1953

 

LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES


    Whistle up the Devil

“Mr. Craig— assaulted one of the maids, sir."

"Assaulted one of the maids?" repeated Hazlitt, not without surprise. "Why— and how?"

"Really, sir." The butler shifted uneasily. "I'd rather you learned the details from the young person herself."

"Oh, very well. Sergeant!"

Hardinge was sent in search of Susan York.

When she finally appeared and took the butler's place in the chair before the table, Lawrence recognized the shapely hipped young housemaid who had brought sandwiches to his bedroom. Her flimsy negligee displayed her pretty figure to pleasant advantage, and a wide blue ribbon lent a provocative touch to her loosened hair. She turned wide brown eyes on the Inspector. Hazlitt coughed. "You are Susan York?"

"That's right, sir." Her voice was soft and pleasing, with an overlay of movie-brand sophistication.

Algy looked at her with interest. The curve of her mouth was pertly attractive: he wondered if Uncle Russ had thought so, too.

commentary: You have to expect scenes like this if you read 1950s crime stories. When questioned further about the assault, we get this:
A twinkle of amusement danced in Susan's eyes. She said demurely: "He smacked me. Hard. On the bottom." And she rubbed her chubby buttocks reminiscently.
There’s quite a similar scene in another 1950s crime story, Alex Atkinson’s Exit Charlie, relevant blogpost here: this was obviously seen as snigger-worthy but not wrong, by all parties concerned.

What is also bothering me is that she turns up to an interview with the police in a flimsy negligee – even if it is the middle of the night, I find that hard to believe. Surely some attentive older member of staff - Mrs Patmore or Mrs Hughes from Downton Abbey - would have pushed her into a sensible woolly dressing-gown.

My friend Chrissie Poulson brought the book to my attention, and I can’t improve on her description:
It is a familiar set-up – family curse, eldest son murdered in a locked and guarded room at midnight – but done with tremendous verve.  The first murder is followed up by one almost as mystifying, but in a different location. I was gripped from beginning to end. The clues were planted perfectly fairly, but the trick with this kind of novel is to keep you reading at such a lick that you go galloping past them without noticing.
-- and she too found some of the scenes with women eyebrow-raising.

But it is a classic fun read of a certain kind. At first I was highlighting, with disdain, passages like this, about our sleuth Algy, the unofficial detective:
Fortunately his parents, besides providing him with good health, a keen brain, and a romantic disposition, had left him an adequate private income. And he had a good friend in Chief Inspector Stephen Castle. The burly man, shrewdly divining the young man's deep sense of frustration, had directed Algy's talents and interests into suitable channels. Lawrence had quickly proved his worth. He was an amateur but he was also a specialist….[He] was popular with the men of the C.I.D.
But after a while I was prepared to just enjoy the story. And now Chrissie has recommended another good book by him which I will certainly also be reading…

Picture shows actress Carole Landis, and seemed in the spirit of Susan’s nightwear.





















18 comments:

  1. Yes, I have to admit, Moira, those scenes with the maid had me raising my eyebrows. I know it's what you find in books of that era, but still... That said, though, it does sound like an interesting mystery plot. And sometimes you do have to just let go and enjoy the story - negligee or not...

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    1. As a puzzle, as a crime story, it is hard to fault! So you have to try to get over the rest...

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  2. Yes, some eye-popping stuff, I agree - but in spite of that, it did fulfil the main criteria of a book like this - I really really wanted to know how it had all happened.

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  3. Nice pair of pins, but I don't think the book is one for me.

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  4. Moira: The stunning photo inspired me to look up Carole Landis online. I did not know anything about her.

    She gained fame for starring in the original One Million B.C. movie. Here is a link to what the cavewoman of 1940's Hollywood was wearing:
    http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-fC8RxuRJEgc/UBggkPrI5RI/AAAAAAAACVo/dI4e43rvRRo/s1600/landis2.jpg

    What was sad and dramatic was her death at 29 in 1948. Officially she committed suicide as she was despondent over her lover, Rex Harrison, refusing to leave his wife. Her family continues believes she was murdered and blame Harrison.

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    1. What a sad and interesting story, Bill, thanks for all that extra info.
      And if only I find a book with a cavewoman in it I can use that excellent photo...

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  5. Moira, this may be sour grapes, but I think it is time for another piece on sensible undies... You do them sometimes... The kind of thing worm by those of us who do not (and never did) have pretty figures and therefore do not have flimsy negligees (even if we do hanker after them)...

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    1. Your comment made me laugh out loud! Absolutely - sensible nightwear and practical undies that we'd actually wear. Back to Miss Silver and some sensible knitted woollen vests.

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    2. Should you be able to find a suitable literary link I can furnish you with a lovely little sketch and instructions for knitted knickers (to go with the woollen vests), from an old knitting book. Actually, it's probably taking things to extremes - imagine how excruciatingly uncomfortable they would be.

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    3. Itchy and prickly, yes - but I love the sound of the sketch, I would love to see it, and would definitely find something to go with it.

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    4. I can copy it for you when I get home (am at a daughter's at the moment).Where's the best place to send it?

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    5. Yes please! Paper copy or file? If you email me at clothesinbooks@hotmail.co.uk - well you can either send a file that way, or I will email you my postal address. Thanks so much!

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    6. Great thanks, I look forward to seeing it...

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  6. I love the image but don't know what to think of the mystery. Doesn't sound like I likely to run into copies of his books but if I do, I may give them a try.

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    1. Very English, and quite hard to find here, so you may well not encounter him. But I am looking forward to more.

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