Mary Hume looked momentarily at the back of Captain Reginald’s head as she went up to the witness box. With the exception of Inspector Mottram, she was (or so it seemed on the surface) the calmest person who had yet testified. She wore sables: a flamboyant display, Evelyn assured me, but she may have been feeling in that mood with defiance. And she wore no hat. Her yellow hair, parted and drawn back sleekly, emphasized the essential softness and odd sensuality of the face, dominated by those wide-spaced blue eyes. Her method of putting her hands on the edge of the box was to grasp it with both arms extended, as though she were on an aqua-plane. In her manner there was no longer any of that hard docility I had seen before.
observations: The Judas Window is generally agreed to be one of John Dickson Carr’s best books (it first appeared under his pseudonym, more in this entry) - and thus one of the best locked room mysteries ever. It is not my favourite of his works, because the explanation seems so unlikely - I do see that’s not something to worry about with JDC, but there is a range… But it is still a great read: tense, and almost entirely in a court-room setting. The best of his books keep you reading simply because you HAVE to find out the explanation for some extraordinary setup, and The Judas Window is definitely in that category.
There is another very odd aspect to it. I have floated the idea before that JDC wished he could write more about sex, and that his young women were quite sexually adventurous. The young woman above (a highly-respectable heroine) is about to give evidence of being blackmailed, by a former lover who has compromising photographs of her:
Mary Hume [said] clearly, ‘without any clothes on, and in certain postures.’The photograph is then shown to judge and jury.
‘What postures?’ asked Mr Justice Rankin.
[The barrister says:] ‘I’ve got one of those photographs here. Across the back of it is written: “One of the best things she ever did for me”’
When I first read this book as a young teenager I was shocked witless by this, forming my own conclusions as to what the photo must have shown. I’m still quite surprised that it pops up like that in a traditional Golden Age mystery. It is stressed in the book that this is not a court of morals, and no judgement should be passed on Mary for having an affair outside marriage and (presumably) consenting to the photos being taken. Unexpected all round.
Another pressing matter of great importance: what on earth does gripping an aqua-plane look like? And here we can help you, with a startling photograph from the very year of 1938:
-- if you look closely you can see that she has not had her legs sliced off at the knee (that would be a quite different JDC book…), it’s just a trick of the angle.
Normally an aquaplane is, apparently ‘a board on which a standing rider is towed behind a speeding motorboat’ – so perhaps like a single waterski, a monoski? The one above seems to have its own power supply.
****ADDED LATER: Blog readers have helped out with information on aquaplaning. JS found this newsclip of the sport from Pathe, called Skidding Along. And Bill Selnes from the Mysteries and More blog found this helpful article on the history of aquaplaning. Looking at both would convince you even more that the picture above is wholly posed.****
The main picture is by Glyn Warren Philpot, the sitter was Mary Borden. Now, those probably aren’t sables in the picture, and I’m hoping that one of my most helpful and knowledgeable blog commentators, Ken Nye, will be able to give me more info on that (see Ken's helpful input on insertion kisses below yesterday's entry)
*****ADDED LATER: Yes, Ken did come to help, see below in the comments *****
But I did like this picture, she seemed to look how Mary should.
My friend Sergio over at the Tipping My Fedora blog is a huge fan of John Dickson Carr, and his blog contains informative pages on him, a review of this book, and links to other relevant websites – anyone with any interest in the author should definitely go over there.
For more of and about JDC on Clothes in Books, click on his name below