The Tiger in the Smoke by Margery Allingham
published 1952 chapter 9
[A group of ex-soldiers living in difficult circumstances are surprised when someone arrives through the window]
Through the dark square a pair of legs had appeared. They were elegant legs in well-pressed wide trousers of a pattern very fashionable in certain circles before the war. Suede shoes and bright socks accompanied them, and above there was a suggestion of tweed, thick, buff, expensive coat skirts…
There was a moment of silence, a stunned and timeless pause during which the circle of upturned faces froze into grotesque masks, ludicrous in their astonishment. Then…the legs kicked out once, as with the grace which belongs to strength alone a man unfolded himself before them. He hung by an arm from the beam… his feet in their excellent shoes swinging limply two or three yards from the ground. The light fell on him squarely. It found his gay scarf, and the gap of good shirt between his waistcoat and trouser top where his stomach was arched to take his weight, and every man in the cellar saw the tragic face… and the steady eyes regarding them so boldly as he looked round for men he knew. Then he dropped lightly to the ground… ‘Dad’s back’ he said, and his voice was smooth and careful.
observations: Enter the master villain. Jack Havoc is a strange and difficult character in this superb book, which has appeared before on the blog. There is a terrific feel for 1950s London, and this is very much a book is about the aftermath of war: seven years after WW2 ended, some of these men (street buskers who live together in a cellar) are still remembering a raid they went on to a French chateau, and the treasure that may still be there. Jack – who should be in prison – has just turned up to try to recover the valuables. And the story starts with a young widow, about to remarry, being sent hints that perhaps her husband, the brave Major, is not dead. An enticing setup, and a wonderful, memorable book.
Twice in the book the Hollerith system is mentioned – they are tabulated punch cards for sorting data, and not something that comes up these days, but they formed one of the bus-stops on the road to modern computers.
Links up with: earlier appearance, here. Natty young men, here. Musicians in a cellar in a very different context in this entry.
The picture is of the blameless and totally un-criminal bandleader Cab Calloway, part of the Gottlieb collection at the Library of Congress.