[Roger Sheringham is talking with a Scotland Yard Inspector]
“Well, Moresby, I’ve got to go through the distressing business of buying a new hat before lunch. Do you feel like shadowing me to Bond St?”
“Sorry, Mr Sheringham,” said Chief Inspector Moresby pointedly, “but I have some work to do.”
Roger removed himself….
Two chance encounters that same day and almost within an hour put an entirely different complexion on the case to Roger’s eyes, and translated at last his interest in it from the academic into the personal.
The first was in Bond St.
Emerging from his hat-shop, the new hat at just the right angle on his head, he saw bearing down on him Mrs Verreker-le-Mesurer. Mrs Verreker-le-Mesurer was small, exquisite, rich, comparatively young, and a widow… But she talked. She talked, in short, and talked, and talked. And Roger, who rather liked talking himself, could not bear it.
He tried to dart across the road, but there was no opening in the traffic stream. He was cornered. With a gay smile that masked at vituperative mind he spoilt the angle of his beautiful new hat…
observations: As I complained yesterday, the trouble with reading Martin Edwards’ wonderful new non-fiction book, The Golden Age of Murder, was that I kept stopping to get down books he mentioned, thinking I must re-read them, or at least glance through. This was the one that I first grabbed: Martin said it was a ‘tour de force’ and read as though Agatha Christie and PG Wodehouse had collaborated, ‘blending wit with dazzling ingenuity.’
It is a very clever story: six criminologists agree that each will look at the same current murder case, and come up with their own conclusions, to be shared with the others on successive evenings. The case involves those chocolates, which reach an unlikely target and kill her. So who sent the chocs, and who was the intended victim? There isn’t a huge cast, nor a huge range of clues, but Berkeley manages to produce six quite different narratives based on the same facts, and they are very entertaining. I find the concept a bit tiresome, but the author certainly did well in keeping the interest and tension up. In the end, the endless speculation on the people involved meant they had no depth, because their morality changed with every chapter. But tour de force is still the right description: what an achievement.
A handful of authors appear throughout Martin’s book as he follows their life and work in depth (other lesser figures make briefer appearances), and of these Berkeley was the one I knew least about. His was a fascinating and, towards the end, rather sad story, and he had an unexpected and to me hitherto completely unknown connection with one of my favourite non-crime authors: EM Delafield. (Her Diary of a Provincial Lady has featured many times on the blog - it shares the honour of being the book-with-the-most-posts with James Joyce's Ulysses.) Martin does a skilful and sympathetic job of trying to untangle the ins and outs of Berkeley’s rather raffish life.
I was glad to be reminded of this book and to re-read it: I will now be looking on my shelves to see which others of his I have.
And I would recommend again the Martin Edwards book - see blog review here, and Martin's own intro to it here.
The top picture is a 1929 hat advert – two choices as to which is the correct angle.