Thursday, 10 January 2013

Murder at Cambridge by Q Patrick

published 1932 chapters 7 & 8






When I returned to my room, I was surprised to see that someone was standing by my bookcase, casually pulling out a volume. My visitor was a girl wearing a red hat and a smartly cut white silk dress. As I entered the room, she wheeled round and faced me. It was the Profile….

I have already mentioned the fact that nice English girls do not run around loose in the men’s colleges at Cambridge. This applies most especially to the women students at Girton and Newnham. Meters of red tape must be unraveled before they can accept an innocent invitation to tea. If they come uninvited, they are flying in the face of all the standard conventions and acting as hussies. The statement is unqualified— and yet, here it was, time for tea or cocktails, and the Profile was in my room, uninvited!

“Hullo,” she said calmly, as I entered. And indeed, she did look rather a hussy in that flaming red hat and the stunning white dress. But an exquisite and perfectly adorable hussy at that. Whatever poise or good breeding I have acquired at the two Cambridges completely deserted me as I took in the miracle of this sudden re-appearance.


observations: Explaining the author is a complex business – this was a penname, of which there are 3 variants, the best-known being Patrick Quentin, and the names covered up combinations of four different collaborators. Best to look it up on Wikipedia if you need to know. This one is very different from the later books – if reading it blind I would never in a million years have guessed it was part of the Quentin/Patrick franchise. It is a chirpy high-spirited book, with not much concern for the victims, a lot of old-fashioned detecting, and some excruciating dialogue. Most of the actions, discussions and motivations are totally unconvincing. The attitudes to women can easily be guessed from the passage above. 

NB: Those last three sentences are a test. Normal people read them as the anti-recommendation, while fans of Golden Age detective stories find them, inexplicably, a come-on, and are off looking the book up on Amazon.

Mind you, the description of life as an undergraduate at Cambridge in the early 1930s is fascinating, and would be to anyone - the hero is American, and his take on England is affectionate and quite funny.

It seemed appropriate to have a picture of the Duchess of Cambridge, and Catherine Middleton obliged in 2011 by wearing a white dress and a red hat on a visit to Canada. She is, of course, not a hussy.

This book has recently been republished by Ostara Publishing – thanks to the splendid Tipping my Fedora blog for pointing it out.

Links on the blog: The modern-day Duchess was the oblique inspiration for this entry on another Royal Katherine whose fertility was much-discussed. Oxford features more than Cambridge in books and on the blog - was Jay Gatsby an American man in Oxford? -  but May Week is here. And Oxford again - female undergraduates and their clothes in a murder story published just a couple of years later.

3 comments:

  1. Moira - I couldn't help chuckling at your description of this post as a test. How very funny! And so true, too. I have to say I have a soft spot for academic mysteries, even those in which women are considered hussies if they dare to be 'on the loose' at Cambridge. And from a sociological standpoint I find it really interesting to see how campus life has changed in the last hundred or so year. And no, of course the Duchess of Cambridge is not a hussy, but I just love that 'photo - and that hat!

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  2. Fascinating bit of blog cross-pollination going on here Moira. And thanks for the kinf words,

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  3. I like your way of introducing each book with an excerpt. Very effective at illustrating whether the potential reader might like the style of the writer. And I like your description of the book. I had seen Sergio's review and already planned to look for the book, and your post motivates me to do that soon.

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