Published 1955 chapter 1
She was standing beneath the carved head of the girl on the corbel, and their features were uncannily alike. In her arms she carried a sheaf of early chrysanthemums. She was wearing a thin brown dress, polka-dotted; she looked very slender and young. As Mr Ambo watched, she put the flowers in two tall vases under the chancel arch, kneeling on the steps to arrange them. She stood there a moment, head on one side, gave them a final touch and turned away…
[later, the same day] Then a curious and disturbing thing happened. [Mr Ambo] thought he saw someone on the terrace steps. His sight being less acute now, he concentrated all his powers of vision on that shadow in the waning light. A woman, surely, in a brown, polka-dotted dress. For a moment he thought Alyson must have returned unexpectedly, then he realized the inadequacy of that as an explanation…
‘No,’ Vinery said, ‘it wasn’t my wife.’
‘You saw her?’ Mr Ambo asked, and Vinery burst into a long laugh…
observations: This is a creepy little episode – never really explained, and with no great purpose. Although this is a murder story, there is no question of this appearance being related to alibis or people being where they shouldn’t. There is no real explanation of it in the book. In an earlier entry – which should be read with this one - we said that Warriner can’t make up its mind what kind of a book it is.
There is a nasty atmosphere of a wicked, manipulative husband indulging himself in psychological abuse, and a rather interesting take on marriage from an Archdeacon:
By heaven, no, it isn’t to say that God joins together every couple who stand at the altar. I’d put it at about ten percent. Majority of ‘em use God as a sort of super-registrar.
The wife in this case – the woman in the polka-dot dress - is too perfect for her own good, an empty character to modern eyes. There is a fairly excruciating passage where Lottie – the bra-less girl from the previous entry – who is obviously of low origins but rising up in the world, is described as subtly learning from Alyson, her social superior, getting hints on how to dress.
I complained about a recent detective story set in the 1950s because he misquotes a famous line of poetry. I’d have thought that much less likely to happen in a Penguin book of the 50s, but I’d be wrong – same line, same mistake. (The correct line is: They shall grow not old as we that are left grow old.)
There are some splendid names in the book – Charlesworth Vinery and Amen and Starry Sleep – but I suppose if your own name is Thurman Warriner you have a headstart in this area.
I thought it would be easy to find a suitable picture of a woman in a polka-dot dress (she didn’t have to be a ghost after all) but it was very difficult. This one is from Dovima is Devine’s photostream.