Tuesday, 28 April 2015

A Shilling for Candles by Josephine Tey



published 1936

[Inspector Grant meets the Chief Constable’s daughter, Erica]


shilling for candles 3She 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 Shilling for Candles 1noticed; 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.
‘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.

I reproduce this without comment, except to say that you don’t get to see Nova Pilbeam doing this in the film.

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.
Shilling for Candles 4
 
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.)











22 comments:

  1. Not one for me thanks - I do like the photo of a young Charlie Sheen at the top though.

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    1. I think she has the rough-and-ready look we'd expect from the Chief Constable's daughter...

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  2. Interesting isn't it, Moira, how sometimes films can be so different to the books that inspire them. As a rule, I'm a cranky purist when it comes to film adaptations. I like a film to be as faithful as possible to the book. But Hitchcock is one of my top directors, so he almost always gets a pass from me. And of course, the book is an excellent choice (thanks for the reminder of Tey's talent!).

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    1. Yes I feel rather as you do, Margot, in both ways: I like a faithful adaptation, but can be indulgent with Hitchcock. And both film and book are very good in their own ways.

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  3. The top photo may not be exactly as Erica is described in the book, but it definitely gives the right impression. I think it captures her independent spirit, her lack of interest in her appearance, and her rather truculent attitude. I enjoyed the book immensely, but have only recently 'discovered' Josephine Tey, although I read Daughter of Time many yeaars ago.

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    1. Thanks, Christine, that's what I wanted to achieve with that photo. I'm a big fan of Tey: although there are aspects of her books that annoy me, I find she is one of the authors I most like to re-read, which is the ultimate test.

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  4. I really will have to dig this one out - I remember the film well as beign entertaining if slightly minor Hitchcock - the book sounds quite odd though with all that elsatic flying about! Thanks for sharing (I think)

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    1. Oh I hope you do re-watch the film, Sergio, I would really like to read your take on it. Tey has her own weird view of life, and all of her books have strange scenes in them, I reckon.

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  5. Thanks for linking to my review, Moira. Luckily, this was a good pick for my return to rereading Tey. I did not remember much of it and it had a lot of elements I liked. Erica was by far my favorite character, but there were many interesting ones. I hope I see the film sometime soonish.

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    1. Thank YOU for reminding me of the book, it was a very enjoyable re-read, and yes Erica was my favourite character too. There was a lot going on in the book, more than I remembered. I was glad to see the film, both to compare with book, and as Hitchcock history.

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  6. Tey is another author I have never read. Sigh. I like the sound of this though...and the top photo is great - there are photos of me as a kid/teen looking equally unimpressed with life and/or the clothes my mother chose (she is a 'girly girl' - all pink and frills, I am not and never was) so I can empathise with her :)

    I never got around to posting about it but last year I read the book of To Catch a Thief for Rich's meme - I'd seen the film loads of times but never read the book - from what you describe above it sounds like Hitchcock made a habit of departing wildly from his source material - have to say in the case of To Catch a Thief he made a lot of improvements

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    1. I don't think I knew To Catch a Thief was a book, Bernadette, so I went and looked it up: David Dodge, and I swear I've read something by him, also set in the south of France, but not that one, I must try and pin down what it was. To Catch a Thief is one of my favourite Hitchcocks. I'm sure he felt he could be cavalier with this source books - he changed the end of Rebecca in a key manner...

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  7. Moira, nicely reviewed. The identity of the culprit and the bizarre motive for the crime makes this book a good reading prospect. Reviews of Josephine Tey are flying thick and fast, certainly faster than I can start reaching out for her books.

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    1. Prashant, I think perhaps she is going to have a revival. Her books are good, very strong characters and plots, very entertaining - and short. Everyone can enjoy that.

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  8. I seem to recall that there's use of "O.K." in "The Family at One End Street" too - (published 1937.) - one of the twins uses it, and then remembers his mother intensely dislikes the expression, so hastily says he means "Yes, please!" (Just checked on Google Books).

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    1. I so need to do that book, thanks for the reminder! And, interesting, very similar instances of using OK - a child trying out the new slang, adults very unsure...

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  9. Yes, please do do "The Family from One End Street" - green silk petticoat, Kate's school uniform...Lots of clothes to discuss, and such a lovely book!

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    1. Yes indeed, I'm looking forward to read it again! For years I believed that if you washed & ironed something wrongly it would shrink to a tenth of its proper size....

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    2. It's also a VERY interesting book socially - did you know that at the time it was published, when it won the Carnegie Medal. the idea of a book about common working class children was seen as pretty controversial and unpalatable?

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    3. Thanks Daniel, I had gathered that it was something of a breakthrough. I must try to find out more about the author when I re-read it, I don't know anything about her...

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  10. We never find out what Herbert thinks of his legacy!

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    1. She just abandoned that strand really, didn't she? Too interested in the young people...

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