[Doris Campbell] was slim and trim and shingled, well dressed, apparently self-assured, clearly a good dancer and a good tennis player, but with nothing else to distinguish her from all her fellow nineteen year-olds in her class of society…
Soon everyone in the composing room could have said for certain that she had grey eyes and black hair; if they could not have stated with precision the prevailing colour of her office jumper, they would at least take notice when she wore a different one….
Possibly the only people who thoroughly disliked the presence of the new arrival were the typists, whose hats and stockings and shoes, trim and neat though they might be, could never compete with those of a girl who was the only daughter of a man whose large income was steadily increasing.
observations: Two murder stories set in London advertising agencies: one written in 1930, the other 1933, and they couldn’t be more different. Tomorrow: Lord Peter Wimsey in Dorothy L Sayers' Murder Must Advertise. Today, a strangely noir-ish effort from CS Forester, more famous for his Hornblower series. It’s a grim little story, spare and miserable, and – unlike Sayers tomorrow – there is limited detail of office life.
The horrible Morris has committed a murder and is getting above himself with his eye on the prize of the boss’s daughter. His home life is dreary – there are convincingly awful scenes of life with children and a whiney wife, along with a quite surprising sex scene. He tries to solve his problems with more murders, and, as is traditional in these books, he is thinking what a pity he is married, as he might otherwise be in with a chance with Miss Campbell. (A throwaway line in the book reveals that she was never interested anyway, the true noir touch.) As in the 1925 An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser, a boating expedition is called for.
The ending is dramatic, quite satisfying and totally amoral. A surprising book all round – with a strong touch of Patrick Hamilton.
Both books contain mention of ‘turning King’s Evidence’, which meant a criminal giving evidence for the Prosecution, to convict another person, in return for a lighter sentence – it’s not something you hear about any more.
One would guess that CSF, like DLS, did work in the advertising industry at some point, as what there is of the business sounds authentic. Sayers invented an advertising stunt called the Mustard Club, which strangely is criticized in Plain Murder (too general, benefits all mustard brands) – in real time, as it were. In both books someone comes up with a much superior early loyalty scheme – Ultra Violet Soap bonuses in one, Whiffling your way round Britain in the other.
For more details of the Mustard Club, read Rich Westwood’s fascinating entry on his Past Offences blog here. He also reviews the Sayers book in another entry.
Links on the blog: the climactic scene takes place at Boulter’s Lock, which is pictured in this entry, about messing about on the river in a more innocent manner.
The picture of typists is from George Eastman House.