Friday, 29 August 2014

Murder in Style by Emma Lou Fetta

published 1939



Susan Yates, passing through the lobby accompanied by a client from Chicago, glanced at the blue-gloved young woman with amused approval of the inventiveness of her costume.

As if the force of gravity ended at the top of her skull, Miss Holt had managed to place a halo-like hat exactly at that point. There it remained magically…. She decorated an otherwise skimpy but docile little suit with a cheap bunch of artificial, blue cornflowers. Amazingly, Susan thought, the tout ensemble of the young woman’s toilet possessed that tenuous quality known to her business as chic. She murmured as much to her woman companion, who sniffed audibly, after one glance at the redhead, and said: ‘Darling if I didn’t know all about your
impeccable taste, I should say you’d lost your mind. Why the child looks like a floosie. Probably is.’



Susan shook her head. ‘She has, my lamb, that thing you can improve upon but not endow – natural taste. One could make a knockout of her with a little time and trouble.’





observations: Curtis Evans, of the excellent Passing Tramp crime fiction blog, brought this one to my attention: he wrote about author and books here and here, and has had a hand in the reprint, by Coachwhip Publications, of 3 of Emma Lou Fetta’s mysteries. Nothing could be more up the Clothes in Book street than a 1930s murder story set in the fashion industry, so naturally I ordered it, and was delighted to find that Curt had written a fascinating and comprehensive introduction (which should definitely be read after the book in fact…)


World of Fashion Luncheon, New York 1940


A group of women representing branches of the fashion industry are meeting for a business luncheon in New York – they are organizing a special show. One dies after taking a vitamin pill. Naturally, she was an out-and-out trouble-maker, and everyone in a 50-metre radius might have a motive to kill her. Investigations follow, and anonymous notes, and sinister meetings in the park at midnight, and a lot of discussion of clothes, the fashion world, and career women.

It is not the greatest murder story ever written, but it is great fun, and full of fascinating sociological detail: the woman have huge handbags, rather like the It bags of today; one woman puts on a marabou jacket to sit up in bed and eat her breakfast; a successful radio personality is hoping that she might be able to take a role in the new industry of television. One character wears ‘a hat like a flashlight camera’ – I’m guessing that might be this kind of shape:



-- like those cameras press photographers have in films of the era.

More on the blog from the obvious suspects – Margery Allingham’s Fashion in Shrouds, and Christianna Brand’s Death in High Heels, are both similar detective stories set in the fashion world, as is Patricia Moyes’ Murder a la Mode – and, there is another book of that name, which I am hoping to read soon. The other (earlier) Murder a la Mode is by Eleanor Kelly Sellars – writer and blogger Helen Szamuely found it and recommended it to me. Watch out for it…

All the photos are from the NY Public Library collection, and from the 1939/40 New York’s World Fair. The World of Fashion luncheon looks like it might be the kind of event the ladies in the book were organizing….

14 comments:

  1. I must read Fashion in Shrouds *repeats one hundred times*. Also, must use "floosie" more often.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes you definitely should read Fashion in Shrouds. And we should ALL be using floosie more often. Let's make it a resolution.

      Delete
  2. Moira - Oh, that does sound like an enjoyable read. All sorts of solid 'things you should find in a detective story of the era.' I love it! And set in the fashion world too? No, I can't see how you could have resisted. Oh, and I like that description of the suit too. And the hat.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Not only was it a fun read, Margot, but I also really enjoyed looking for the right pictures for it. Happy day....

      Delete
  3. Moira, those pictures are brilliant. I knew this one was meant for you blog! I hope you get a chance to read the next two and highlight more of the social details.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The perfect book for me Curtis - I'm so glad you pointed it out to me. As I say above, finding the pictures was sheer joy and pleasure. I will certainly try to read the other two books.

      Delete
  4. I love the clothes, the suits, and especially, the hats. This is a reason I love to watch old movies from the 1930s and 1940s -- to see the clothes.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I know - there's something so satisfying about those looks isn't there?

      Delete
  5. The suits are perfectly tailored, and the hats divine.
    And I don't want to forget the shoes -- high heels, but thick ones, not the
    stilettos worn today, which are perfect murder weapons as some authors have discovered. Women can barely walk in today's high heels and have to carry
    comfortable shoes with them.
    But the older high heels look very comfortable for walking, as well as stylish.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I noticed that about the shoes - they look positively clumpy compared with today's thin heels, but I'm sure they were more comfortable.

      Delete
  6. This does sound worth reading, but I think I will wait awhile until I get some other vintage authors read or sampled.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It was fun but not essential. Get to work on those TBR piles!

      Delete