[Inspector Grant meets the Chief Constable’s daughter, Erica]
She was standing up now, her hands pushed into her jacket pockets, so that the much-tried garment sagged to two bulging points. The tweed she wore was rubbed at the cuffs and covered all over with “pulled” ends of thread where briars had caught. Her skirt was too short and one stocking was violently twisted on its stick of leg. Only her shoes— scarred like her hands, but thick, well-shaped and expensive— betrayed the fact that she was not a charity child.
[Later Inspector Grant meets her again] She was dressed in her “town” clothes, he noticed; but they did not seem to be an improvement on her country ones. They were neat, certainly, but they had an unused look; and the grey suit she was wearing, although undoubtedly “good”, was dowdy. Her hat had been got to match, and matched also in dowdiness.
No mother had chosen those clothes. They were ordered from the tailor just as her school clothes had been. ‘One grey flannel suit and hat to match.’ In spite of her independence and her sureness of spirit there was something forlorn about her, he felt.
observations: I was reminded of this book by a review at Tracy’s Bitter Tea and Mystery blog. She read the book for the Past Offences books of #1936 meme (see my Ngaio Marsh entry here – which, like this book, contains bogus religious figures) and liked it, and mentioned that Alfred Hitchcock had made a film based on it at year later, Young and Innocent. So now I have watched the film, and re-read the book.
The plot is this: Filmstar Christine Clay has been murdered on a beach in Kent – she had been hidden away in a holiday cottage, and almost nobody knew she was there. Her death doesn’t at first seem to benefit anyone particularly, but there is a young man she has been keeping company with – as the police close in on him, he makes a run for it. The Chief Constable’s daughter, Erica, is convinced of his innocence. On the whole, people think he didn’t do it because he’s not really up to it, a bit feeble, rather than for some more honourable reason - and when Erica says to Robert ‘You must be much cleverer than I thought you were, you know’ he replies, with some reason: ‘Yes? How clever does that make me actually?’
Round about here, Hitchcock and Tey part company. The film is a classic Hitchcock series of chases – away from danger of capture, and towards the McGuffin of a coat that will prove Robert’s innocence. The two young people get caught up in a children’s party and a game of Blind Man’s Buff. (Weirdly, they give the birthday girl a ‘stone dwarf’ ie gnome which they have pinched from the hosts’ garden.) Wikipedia says the film ‘is notable for an elaborately staged crane shot Hitchcock devised towards the end of the film, which identifies the real murderer’ – and indeed it is a remarkable shot.
The book has a completely different culprit and motive for the murder, and the young couple, though important, are only a small segment of the continuing investigation. Erica is also much younger and less polished than in the film, and is a much more original and charming figure. There is one scene where she is trying to convince a drunken vagrant that she is who she says she is:
Erica whipped up her short tweed skirt, gripped the elastic waistband of the gym knickers she wore summer and winter, and pushed the inner side of it towards him on an extended thumb. ‘Can you read?’ she said.I reproduce this without comment, except to say that you don’t get to see Nova Pilbeam doing this in the film.
‘Erica M. Burgoyne,’ read the astonished man, in red on a Cash’s label.
‘It’s a great mistake to be too sceptical,’ she said, letting the elastic snap back into place.
The second photo above is Pilbeam (not in this film) – in fact she was only 17 when the Young and Innocent was made, though looking older, had been a child actress, and must have seemed a likely prospect for a stardom that never happened – her Wikipedia entry is interesting, and says she is still alive, aged 95.
The top picture is an impressionistic idea of Erica from the book (it’s from the ever-wonderful Helen Richey collection, and another photo makes it clear that those are culottes). Below is a scenegrab of her much smarter tweed suit in the film.
The motive for the crime is a particularly bizarre one, and the title – excellent though it is – is very much a minor part of the story. But it’s a good read, and the film is fun to watch, with its place in Hitchcock’s history – although the danceband in the hotel who are ‘blacked up’ as minstrels are hard to take for modern viewers.
A nice point in the (1937) film is that a child keeps saying ‘OK’ – it’s meant to be slangy and annoying, but obviously understood and not unusual. Author Lissa Evans says that when writing her WW2 homefront novel, Crooked Heart (one of my best books of last year), she knew that usage of OK was authentic, but also knew that readers would object, claiming it was anachronistic… (a subject dear to the CiB heart.)