Sunday, 1 June 2014

Dress Down Sunday: Murder Maestro Please by Delano Ames

published 1952




LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES







[Dagobert and Jane are on holiday in the Pyrenees, and investigating a crime. They are in their hotel room, getting ready to go out to dinner]


‘It’s half past seven. You don’t seem to be awfully dressed yet, Jane.’

‘How can I, when you keep interrupting?’

‘There’s no hurry,’ he said inaccurately, trying the telephone. ‘We’ll have our drinks up here.’ The telephone worked and he ordered dry Martinis. He returned to my side, softened by the prospect of their imminence. ‘I love you in that creamy satin gown,’ he murmured.

It’s my petticoat,’ I said, ‘and go away. If you haven’t anything better to do you might find my stockings.’

‘But I have.’

The arrival of the Martinis restored order. ‘It’s the southern night and the spring,’ I sighed, ‘and a decent hotel.’

‘We could telephone and say I have malaria.’

The idea was appealing. ‘If I hadn’t spent an hour ironing this dress,’ I began…


observations: In the 1950s there were a number of series with married couples as detectives – on the blog we’ve had Frances Crane and the Bonetts, and Thurman Warriner’s spiv and his moll (though they don’t seem to be married); and there was also Frances Durbridge’s Paul Temple and his wife Steve.

What brought them along? Were they based on Agatha Christie’s hideous Tommy and Tuppence? More likely, Nick and Nora in Dashiell Hammett’s very successful The Thin Man (1934).

The couples are meant to be wise-cracking, hard-drinking, and mutually supportive. That can easily get tiresome (I didn’t like the sleuth-y couples in this Pamela Branch book of a similar era) but the ones mentioned above are pretty bearable. I was very impressed by Delano Ames’ ability to have a woman narrator and not make me wince every 30 pages or so – I thought he did a very convincing job of impersonation there.

The plot is the usual farrago of bodies, disappearing bodies, two random tandems that come and go, and a lot of drinking and smoking. There’s a collection of English-speaking visitors in this small town in the Pyrenees, and they all go around to each other’s hotels, have brittle conversations, disappear at key points, and turn up in each other’s rooms to a remarkable degree. So it’s all good fun. They must have had very good matches in those days (to light all those cigarettes) as characters seem to be able to light a match and be able to examine carefully a huge garage, or peer into a ravine at midnight and see vital clues. There is a world-class harpsichordist – the maestro of the title – unreliable and eccentric and a fine addition to the cast.

I think the chance of anyone solving the crime through anything but guesswork is remote. But I enjoyed going along with it.

Picture from the Dovima is devine photostream.

14 comments:

  1. Moira - You know, you're right. There are several crime-solving couples out there. You know, I'll have to do a post on that.... Hmm..... Oh, anyway, I think you make a well-taken point too about how refreshing it is to see a male author, especially of that era, write a solid female protagonist. And I like the wit in that snippet you've shared.

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    1. Oh yes, please do a post on detective couples, I would love to read that. I think it's interesting the way there are fashions in these things.

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  2. She has kind of fat feet ( just jealous, I guess - I had to find some flaw....)

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    1. Your comment made me laugh - and then I had to go and peer closely at the photo, and I can't decide if it was just an unlucky angle by the photographer...

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  3. I hadn't thought about how many crime solving couples there are in crime fiction during that time period either. I haven't made up my mind about the Abbotts yet, I loved the one book I read but Jean seemed too ditzy. Will try more.

    I did read some of the Delano Ames' books years ago, and I have this one and others from the series to reread, but I never get to them.

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    1. I think I have more of them on my shelves somewhere, and reading this one made me want to read or re-read more. I must look them out.

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  4. That chair must be really comfortable.

    On the sleuthing couples, it's one of the things I like about Tommy and Tuppence, though may seem not to be able to stand them. They really did seem to prefigure all these others. I do think the Thin Man was so important in that regard, although Sayers should get some credit too with Lord Peter and Harriet (though Harriet is not fully a sleuth).

    There's another sleuthing couple in the Emma Lou Fetta trilogy. I feel I have to mention this, as I wrote an introduction to the reprints! ;)

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    1. I definitely need to read the ELF books - I've clocked them when you've mentioned them, and they sound made for my blog. You've given me the push I need to get hold of them. I think my take on the sleuth couples is that when well done they're great, but if the banter and sexy talk doesn't work for the reader then they are particularly tiresome. But at least they make a change from lonely cops with dreary non-lives.

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  5. Only crime solving couple I can come up with is from a TV series that I never really watched - "Hart to Hart".
    The foot in the photo, perhaps I've seen it elsewhere...Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit ...

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    1. Now you're all just being mean about this lovely girl...

      I guess Moonlighting would count, though the point was that they weren't a couple for most of it...

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  6. The Thin Man is an excellent book, a bit different from the movie, not all froth and repartee. The mystery is a bit more serious.

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    1. Yes I agree - I like the film too, but I read the book first and thought it was excellent. I have liked all the Dashiell Hammett books I have read.

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  7. Oh, really? I have only read this one and The Maltese Falcon. Though I may be in the minority, I liked Thin Man better.

    I do like The Thin Man movies, though they are frothier than the book, but if I were home with the flu for awhile, I'd love to see these movies.

    I remember Mr. and Mrs. North from my childhood.

    I must say and I hope I'm not giving grief to any Christie fans, but I saw one TV episode of Tommy and Tuppence. Didn't like the point of view, nor do I particularly like watching shows about the idle rich, unless one sees them as satire or parody.

    I do confess to watching Downton Abbey, but do so for three reasons: I take the goings-on among the wealthy family as satire; I love Maggie Smith (she could read the phone book and I'd be laughing), and I find the lives of the "downstairs" inhabitants to be more compelling. I'm also fascinated about how "servants" could pour their entire lives into the families for which they worked.

    I believe the "service"-type employment mostly evaporated during WWII as men went off to war and women were hired to fill their places.

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    1. I enjoy Downton Abbey very much: it is very entertaining. But I am not convinced that the picture it shows is entirely accurate. Many of the characters have very modern views....

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