Thursday, 19 June 2014

Books of 1963: Murder a la Mode by Patricia Moyes

published 1963








Henry had had no very clear idea of what he expected the Editor of Style to look like, but the moment that Margery French walked in he realised that she filled the role to perfection. Everything was right – the beautifully-cut suit, the blue-rinsed hair, the impeccable make-up, the fine sensitive hands embellished with one outsize topaz ring on the wedding finger. It was hard to believe that this woman, who must be nearer 60 than 50, had been working late into the night: and still more difficult to remember that she had just been woken from her well-earned rest with news of a shocking disaster. Certainly the sergeant’s forebodings about hysterical women were unfounded in this instance.

“Good morning, Inspector Tibbett,” said Margery, briskly. “This is terrible and tragic business. Please tell me all about it, and let me know how I can help you…




observations: Rich Westwood, Mr Past Offences himself, does a roundup each month on his blog of Classic Crime in the Blogosphere , a meme in which Clothes in Books is proud to make regular appearances. For June, he suggested that prospective participants should concentrate on one year: the 1963 challenge. Perfect for me, as I’ve been meaning to feature this book for a while – and also this rather wonderful photograph.

Murder a la Mode is set in the offices of a fashion magazine, where one of the writers has been murdered in the aftermath of the Paris collections, as the staff pull an all-nighter to prepare for their biggest issue of the year. (Fans of The Devil Wears Prada and the film The September Issue will find this familiar ground.) While the magazine is called Style, you wouldn’t be in a moment’s doubt that we are talking Vogue here, and the authenticity is so very obvious that I didn’t really need to check on Moyes’ biography on Wikipedia to find out that she worked there as Assistant Editor. The Inspector Tibbett mysteries are very much cozy and traditional, and his wife Emmy is no feminist trailblazer: I wouldn’t have been surprised to find that Moyes had been a Home Counties matron writing books when not doing the flowers for the church – but that is far from the case, and she had an intriguing career.

The book is a joy to read just because of the setting, and the eccentric and Bohemian magazine staff and their associates, and the details of their working lives. For example, the editor above is earlier shown wearing her hat at her desk – something we looked at earlier this month in this entry, with this picture:




-- yes, it looks exactly like Clothes in Books herself, hard at work, but it is milliner Lilly Dache. 

In Murder a la Mode, ‘the black straw hat was beginning to grow uncomfortably tight around her temples, but she would no more have dreamed of taking it off than of undressing in public.’

The picture is by Toni Frissell from the Library of Congress: it is widely described, and has been for years, as being taken at Victoria Station (where fashion editors travelling back from Paris by the boat-train would expect to arrive). But in the world of crowd-sourcing correction, and in an unlikely conjunction of high fashion and trainspotters, it is now claimed for Paddington. It bears an entirely coincidental resemblance to one of yesterday's photos...

Rich Westwood of Past Offences has guest-blogged on Clothes in Books, on The Woman in White.


More from fashion magazines in the Anne Scott-James book In the Mink  - lots of entries, click on the label below. 

16 comments:

  1. Moira - I like the Henry Tibbetts series very much, not least because of Tibbetts' relationship with his delightful wife Emmy. Such a good pairing. And to me anyway there's a solid balance between a mystery that gets/keeps the reader's attention, and the right light touch. Glad you featured this one, and if you haven't tried others in this series, I recommend them.

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    1. I have read one or two more, but there's plenty still to go. I've got my eye on Dead Men Don't Ski, after you mentioned it - partly because of your reco, and partly because I love pictures of vintage ski wear, snowy young couples from a bygone age etc, so will enjoy finding an image!

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  2. Moira, not one for me thanks. I have to say '63 was a fantastic year though!

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    1. Perhaps a certain Criminal Library was born that year? And you know what Philip Larkin says about 1963...

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  3. Thanks Moira - a great choice. I was worried people wouldn't be able to find suitable titles, but this one couldn't have been better for you. I've also been keeping an eye out for Dead Men Don't Ski.

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    1. It seems to me that people thought finding a book was part of the joy - and it couldn't have worked out better for me....

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  4. I love Moyes, Moira, but I must admit I haven't read this one yet. I do wish her books were still in print - they are first-rate, classic mysteries, written with warmth and wit and thoroughly enjoyable. I'll have to go hunting for this one.

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    1. I always enjoy them, and will continue to look out for them and work my way through the list - I agree, it's surprising some enterprising publisher hasn't relaunched them.

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  5. I admit I haven't read the books, however, I love the suit in the top photo and the editor/milliner, Lilly Dache,' at work wearing her hat.

    I love the clothes of that period.

    I met a woman at a doctor's office who only wears suits, hats, coats and shoes from the 1940s and 1950s, an all-vintage wardrobe. She is a writer. Her outfit resembled the clothes in these photos; it was all in cranberry, except for the brown shoes, which had high, thick heels.

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    1. I agree, I think the clothes of that period are particularly attractive.

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  6. A perfect book for you, Moira. I considered reading this one for 1963 myself, because I do want to reread a lot of the Moyes books, especially the early ones. At least I have all of them; she is one of the earlier mystery authors whose books I held onto after reading them. Mostly in paperback, of course, because that was what I could afford. Then I wanted to do a Rex Stout book, The Mother Hunt. And finally settled on Horse Under Water by Deighton. A lot of good books published in 1963.

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    1. I know, it was interesting finding out what was around then, wasn't it? Of course as soon as I saw this one was 1963 I knew I'd be doing it, but there were others of interest. I hope Rich will repeat the exercise with a different year.

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  7. I don't know about Patricia Moyes, and upon reading this and Tracy's and other blogs, that there are gaps in my crime fiction education, which must be remedied.

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    1. She is a classic author, Kathy, and I think you would enjoy her. Giver her a try!

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  8. I haven't heard of this series but reading today's post and this older one makes me think I should find a copy.

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    1. It's great fun Cleo - I read Patricia Moyes more for the atmosphere and settings, rather than the detection. And a book set in the fashion world is always a winner with me...

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