[in another office] A plump girl in glasses, with head tilted back and brows twisted to keep the smoke of a cigarette out of her eyes, was rattling off the names of Derby runners on her typewriter, assisted by a bosom friend who dictated the list from the columns of the Morning Star. A languid youth in shirt-sleeves was cutting the names of sweep-subscribers from a typed sheet, and twisting the papers into secretive little screws. A thin eager young man…. was turning over the flimsies in Miss Rossiter’s tray and making sarcastic comments upon the copy to a bulky dark youth in spectacles immersed in a novel by PG Wodehouse and filching biscuits from a large tin…
observations: A second murder story set in a London advertising agency in the 1930s, and it couldn’t be more different from yesterday’s effort by CS Forester.
Lord Peter Wimsey goes to work at Pym’s to investigate the death of Victor Dean, who died falling down a staircase. In the Forester book, details are sparse: this one must be twice as long, and the life of the office is described to the full and with the utmost conviction: doing the sweepstake (above), arguing over the tea money (‘He hinted that I made money out of the teas. I suppose he thinks that’s funny. I don’t.’) The reference books being shoved from office to office, lost and found. The scene where Wimsey demonstrates cricket bowling (with a tobacco tin) down the corridor – ‘Gosh! It’s a Googly’.
This book then culminates in a cricket match, and a miraculous throw by a fielder. And a conclusion drawn. The plot kind of hangs together, though it all seems very unlikely, but you don’t read this book for the details of the telephone book code, you read it for a picture of what London office life probably was like in 1933.
Verdict: Plain Murder is short spare and desperate. Murder Must Advertise is detailed, leisurely, and rolls along nicely. Both enjoyable. But, if you had to choose an agency to work at, definitely go for Sayers’: it sounds a lot more fun, once you’ve taken the danger of being murdered out of both, and they have cakes with their tea.
The top picture shows Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday - Russell, playing Hildy Johnson, is the ultimate role model for women who want to perch on the corners of office desks wearing hats and wisecracking with their male colleagues.
The second picture is of the offices of Moxie Sozo, a modern-day advertising agency in Boulder Colorado. The photo is on Wikimedia Commons.