[Ben Abbott is going out with his aged Aunt Connie]
“Would you like to come with me?” was her way of asking if I would drive her. She would drive herself – the sight of her peering under the rim of the steering wheel would scatter the few who hadn’t already taken cover at the first glimpse of her black Lincoln – but if I were to oblige she would take the sensible course. But she would not ask…
Connie had started the Lincoln, backed it out of her stable, and closed the doors herself. She was sitting in the passenger seat at 11.30, wearing a cardigan sweater over a summery dress and a Lilly Dache hat she had purchased when invited to launch a World War II battleship. Her pie sat on the back floor, swathed in tinfoil. I laid my roses on the back seat, their stems found in wet paper towels and Saran. As I climbed behind the wheel I lifted her veil and kissed her astonishingly soft cheek.
observations: Lilly Dache was a top-class, innovative milliner: French-born, she moved to the USA and eventually had her own business making hats for film stars and rich women. She was very famous in her day, though I had never heard of her till I read the name in this book – quite an unlikely way to discover her.
This was the first of a short series of books featuring Ben Abbott, Wall St trader turned realtor. Justin Scott wrote shedloads of books (under several names) and this one is a little gem. It is rooted in 1994, with Bill Clinton in power after the Reagan and Bush years, and takes small town life (in Connecticut) and big money in its stride. It has a good, busy plot, and a very attractive hero. The women characters are exceptionally real and well-done (and how rare is that in a macho murder story?) – there is a splendid scene where he is out for dinner with a female trooper and she reads him his rights –
in a low voice, by heart, while holding a menu. A prosperous-looking couple at the next table exchanged the little smile lovers do when they see another couple sharing a special moment.
In another scene, he is trying to help a neighbour child get orthodontistry, when he gets across two women who accuse him of making her feel ugly –
‘you’re forcing a little girl onto a treadmill of vanity’
‘He’s always bugging me about potatoes,’ muttered Mrs Mealy.
‘treadmill of vanity?...’
- the scene is hilarious, while being completely even-handed to all the participants, no-one is made to seem wrong or ridiculous. (Again, how rare is that?)
It is interesting to read a story written when the world is on the cusp of gigantic change – the future of electronics and computers is acknowledged as very important, and is part of the plot, but there are answering machines, change for the payphones, car phones, and virtually no computers.
All this and an entrée into the world of bespoke hats. Great book. So this one's for Col of the excellent & highly-recommended blog, Col's Criminal Library - he and I enjoy reading about each other's choices of books, while not having many shared favourites. This one could be an overlap point.
Links on the blog: we like a hat at Clothes in Books: there's a discussion of 1940s styles here - good ship-launching fodder - and click on the label below for more.
The picture is of Lilly Dache in one of her own hats. If you enter ‘Lilly Dache’ into Google Images you get pages of breath-taking hats.