Saturday, 3 May 2014

Murder at the Belmar by BC Stone

published 2013  Set in 1937

The Prime of Miss Kay Francis

[Hollywood actress Kay Francis, on vacation in Mexico, is going out for the evening]

Although she would barely have time to get to the event, she insisted on adorning herself properly; no wardrobe restraint this time. She hurriedly dressed herself in a form-fitting off-white, full-length silk Vionnet dress with bright red satin belt – she looked great in reddish tones, and knew it – and open-toe black suede shoes, all topped off by a pink cape and one of her famous rounded peekaboo hats. And despite her usual disdain for jewellery – diamonds were cold and hypocritical, rubies garish, and pearls egotistical – she decorated herself top to bottom with the finest stones….

KF in the film Mandalay
Her clothes seemed to melt down her shoulders and creep languorously over the rest of her five-feet-nine-inch frame, flowing like warm honey over her full, sylph-like body, her attire, along with the jewels, provided just the touch of soigne that toned down and partially obscured her almost too obvious sensuality.

observations: Kay Francis is the detective in this new series of books: she is a real person, a film star in the early days of talkies, and an extremely successful one. BC Stone is careful to say that the book is entirely fictional, despite featuring many real people, and despite the fact that the real-life actress did stay at the Hotel Belmar.

The mystery is set in the Mexican resort of Mazatlan, where the actress is taking a recuperative holiday in a luxury suite: as the book opens, two thugs are trying to smuggle a dead body into one of her rooms as she lies in bed. So no messing around: straight on with the plot. The dead woman is a very successful crime writer, part of a group staying in the hotel, and there are plenty of suspects. Miss Francis (I loved the way Mr Stone regularly referred to her this way throughout the book) decides to help the local police with the investigation, and at one point Errol Flynn is on her team – there are also cameos by John Ford and John Wayne, and Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. In the extract above, she is about to meet up with CiB blogfriend Somerset Maugham.

The book is good fun and rattles along, and had one further twist than I was expecting. The mystery writers' convention was a great setting, and I liked the introduction of the Maugham play. And, best of all, it contains many wonderful clothes descriptions – I highly approve. Stone tells us what many of the characters are wearing, and gives nice detailed descriptions of Kay Francis’s ensembles. The exotic setting is very well done, with plenty of local colour.

I came across the book on Margot Kinberg’s lovely blog, Confessions of a Mystery Writer, where she introduced BC Stone to her many followers - the book is one of three he has published to date. Mr Stone was kind enough then to come visiting at Clothes in Books, so I hope he may be lured back again. And if so I hope he will answer a couple of cheeky non-spoiler questions: What was the significance of the badly-written note to WSM? And, what about the anonymous note taking Miss Francis up to the mysterious villa? Perhaps they were both just to add to the mysteriousness – and there’s nothing wrong with that.

My 3rd question is professional interest: how did you choose/invent/discover the details of outfits for you heroine?

** ADDED LATER: He did come and answer the questions - see the comments below. **
the right kind of Vionnet dress, on someone else

The large headshot of Kay Francis is from the NY Public Library collection, Miss Francis in a dramatic evening gown (from the film Mandalay) is from Dovima is Devine, as is the picture of a Vionnet outfit – not Miss Francis this time. Vionnet was a Paris designer famous for inventing the bias-cut (Dorothy L Sayers’ disquisition on modern dresmaking - here on the blog – is plainly based on the bias-cut, though she doesn’t mention Vionnet.)


  1. Moira - Thanks for the wonderful shout-out! I'm so glad you liked this one. It just did seem right up your street. And I agree, Stone does a great job of describing clothing. You make a well-taken point too about the wit and some solid plot twists. I really am pleased you thought this a good read.

    1. Thank you Margot - I always get great tipoffs at your blog, and although I blame you for the TBR pile, I am also grateful... and I was very glad to be introduced to Mr Stone and Miss Francis.

  2. Thanks much for the post! Love your blog, and I’ll keep returning. Terrific photo of Kay Francis with white gloves and cigarette.
    The 1930s is such a great era for clothes and it’s a joy describing them in the stories. Also thanks for the questions. The significance of the badly written note to WSM is that the writer is trying to explain why WSM’s fellow author won’t be attending. Later KF sniffs out the truth (helped along by WS himself) as to the note’s real author.
    The anonymous note and the mysterious villa I confess is mostly just to create suspense and uncertainty. Also I wanted to suggest the cautionary (to KF) setting of an aging movie queen living with her memories of the past, so memorably conveyed in a certain movie of a few years later.
    As for choosing the outfits she wore, a combination of observing Kay Francis in the many glamour photos, as well as pictures from the movies, both of which are scattered abundantly across the Web. Also my imagination: I like creating outfits that look great on her and describing such. An online source I’ve found helpful is the Vintage Fashion Library For print sources two of my favorites are: 100 years of fashion, by Cally Blackman, and Fashion: the definitive history of costume and style (DK).

    1. Thanks for dropping by and answering my questions, much appreciated. I did very much enjoy the book and particularly the clothes descriptions, and will look up your recommended sources. I had a marvellous time finding the pictures to illustrate the entry. Goodness she was beautiful wasn't she? That top picture is stunning.

  3. Kay Francis was beautiful and she was in a ton of movies. I don't remember which ones we have seen but Glen pointed out Jewel Robbery and Trouble in Paradise from 1932. You picked some greats images to illustrate this post. I will be trying this book sometime also... just don't know when. Glad you liked it.

    1. I hadn't really clocked her before, though I have seen several movies she was in, including Trouble in Paradise. I shall look out for her now, and perhaps try to find some of the films. Yes, so beautiful.

  4. Glad it worked for you, but I'm not minded to try it, though the author seems a nice chap!

    1. Maybe not harsh enough for you, but good fun...