|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.)