[Mark is looking for a Miss Buckingham, and calls at her house]
An awkward maidservant who answered his ring [said] ‘No sir. She don’t live here any more.. the house is let. It’s Major Arthur lives here now… Or there’s Miss Crawley – perhaps she would do?’…
‘Who’s Miss Crawley?’ he asked.
‘She’s Miss Buckingham’s companion. Funny, isn’t it?’ She smiled ingenuously. ‘She only come at lunch-time. Should I tell her?’
Mark was saved an answer by the appearance, from a door on the far side of the square hall, of a woman. At first glance she looked like any ordinary well-dressed woman of the period, in close-fitting hat and short skirt, but as she came towards him he was conscious of an air of capability about her. Clearly she had overheard the conversation.
‘You wanted to see Miss Buckingham?’ she asked, gazing at him through steady brown eyes that seemed rather to be assessing him.
The maid faded away.
observations: Richard Keverne seems to have been one of those industrious detective story writers producing their books regularly in the Golden Age, now completely forgotten: there’s no Wikipedia entry, and he’s not listed in any crime fiction reference books that I can see. But there is evidence that Eric Partridge was reading him when he compiled his Dictionary of Slang, first published 1938. The Man in the Red Hat is quoted twice to illustrate modern usage – for the word ‘murky’ as meaning discreditable and sinister, and ‘poisonous’ referring to a person, with the implication of his being discreditable or corrupt. Both usages were said to first dates from the 1920s/30s.
So yes, the story is full of murky deeds and poisonous people, while the noble Mark tries to sort everything out. The Man in the Red Hat is an old painting, maybe valuable, and various people seem to be up to no good with it. One of the twists in the book stands out a mile to the modern reader, though in fairness that’s mostly because it’s a standard Christie trope (about old ladies) that we’ve become used to.
Very much of its time - Mark meets an artistic friend of Miss Crawley and we are told that he:
knew the type and rather disliked it for the obvious insincerity of its pose of sex equality. Normal politeness would be wasted on her.-- which doesn’t endear him to the modern reader. The artistic lady wears an ‘overall of lurid design’. I spent some time, unsuccessfully, trying to visualize this before deciding it was meaningless.
There is a nice description of lunch in a traditional London chop house, and some useful advice for those drinking in unknown parts: Always order rum. ‘You’re pretty sure to get honest rum anywhere. It costs more to fake it than to make it.’ Who knew?
Altogether, a reasonable read, of historical interest, but not a must-read – I got quite tired of the endless plot convolutions among the pool of unattractive characters.
My Penguin copy of this one implies a publication date of 1938, but 1930 is the correct year – there’s a review of it in The Spectator magazine then. So the photograph (from the Clover Vintage Tumbler) is from Vogue in 1930 (although the words ‘of the period’ in the extract above suggest it might be set a few years earlier.)