Sunday, 14 June 2015

Dress Down Sunday: She Died a Lady



LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES

the book: She Died a Lady by Carter Dickson/John Dickson Carr

(all books by this author listed as John Dickson Carr on the blog, though he wrote under both names)

published 1943

 
She died a Lady DD


‘Have you met Mrs Sullivan? Is she up?’

‘Up,’ answered Molly, ‘and dressing.’
‘How do you like her?’

‘I like her tremendously.’ Molly’s face was perplexed. ‘But I say, Dr Luke! Doesn’t she use the most frightful language?

‘You’ll get used to that.’

‘And she would keep walking past the window,’ Molly said, ‘with practically nothing on. That crowd at the Coach and Horse were standing at the windows over there with their eyes popping out of their heads. If you’re not careful, Dr Luke, you’re going to get a very bad reputation in Lyncombe.’

‘At my time of life?’

‘I’ve just taken her in some stockings,’ Molly went on. ‘They were my last pair of silk ones. But, as Belle would say, what the hell?...’

 
she died a lady

[Later the landlord of the Coach and Horses comes round] Harry said: ‘Then this morning, blow me if a young lady – and a very ‘andsome young lady; I’m not saying she’s not! – goes and exhibits herself practically stark naked at the window of your ‘ouse.’

That didn’t upset the customers, I trust?’

‘No, but it upset my missus,’ confided Harry, lowering his voice. ‘And there’s other ladies ‘oo don’t feel too ‘appy about it neither. Somebody told the parson down at St Mark’s and ‘e come a-charging up here; ah, and seemed a bit disappointed ’e got ’ere too late to give ’er a piece ’is mind.’

observations: Another World War 2 book. 

Sergio over at Tipping My Fedora last year gathered votes from readers for a poll on the best John Dickson Carr books. You can see the results here, and this was one of the top 10. He describes it like this:
A great whodunit and a great impossible crime mystery in which Henry Merrivale has to figure out how a set of footprints leading to an edge of a cliff without any returning is still murder for the couple found at the bottom. I came to this one after reading many of the old man’s cases – and was stunned by how good it was.
As it was one I didn’t remember I decided to give it a go, and my goodness it’s a terrific read. It’s set in the early days of the war – one character obsessively listens to radio news bulletins – in a small village. Rita is married to a much older man, but has fallen in love with another. One night she and her new man rush out of the house in despair, and apparently jump off a cliff in a suicide pact. But is that what really happened? It’s a fairly outrageous plot, but very clever and very well done. There was one part of the mechanics that is hard to swallow, but the revelation of the guilty party completely took me by surprise. I thought I had a good idea what was going on, and was totally wrong – a most enjoyable sensation.

There’s one oddity (which doesn’t affect the solution): JDC appears to believe that the tide times remain constant – a local says ‘The tide in these parts begins to go out about 4 o’clock in the afternoon.’

The light relief in the book is excellent, and the character of Belle, above, is a delight. She’s a London night-club hostess, and after a bad experience, her brilliant choice of simile is that she is ‘as cramped as though I’d been doing marathon-dancing.’

Altogether one of JDC’s best, and would definitely be on my top 5 list if Sergio ever asks again.

Nina Hamnett is another character who likes parading in front of the window – see blog entry here, where we first used the top picture. And as ever, the blog enjoys a reference to stockings – in wartime they would start to become scarce. The picture is from the NYPL.





















22 comments:

  1. Who said "A gentleman never stands at a window"? Lord Chesterfield?

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    1. Not heard that. Is it meant to show undue interest in others?

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    2. Common people could SEE you - and that would never do! Common people also shout out of windows at their friends in the street.

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    3. Oh yes! Jessica Mitford tells a lovely story about her mother-in-law telling her she should be encouraging her husband to greater heights at work, so Decca hung out the window in the mornings yelling 'work harder! Earn more!' at his disappearing back, to the amused embarrassment of the husband, and the absolute horror of the m-I-l.

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  2. Result! So glad you liked this one too - a real classic, which just makes it so weird that is often unknown even by fans of carr - maybe it had a smaller print run due to paper rationing?

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    1. It was an absolute winner Sergio, and I am so glad your blog pointed it out. How interesting that I was not the only fan who was unfamiliar with it - perhaps your noble efforts will make it better-known.

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  3. Moira, I owe my interest in Carter Dickson/John Dickson Carr books to Sergio. I'm still reading my first novel by the author and it's way too early for me to judge his fiction.

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    1. I know, Sergio is a great champion for Carr. I think you will like him if you continue reading the books Prashant.

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  4. I love that passage about the parson getting there too late. I haven't read this one, but have to now.

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    1. I know, it's the kind of clever Carr passing line that really cracks me up. I hope Carr was as nice in real life as he sounds....

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  5. Moira - Carr was I think so good at crafting the kind of mystery where you don't mind letting go of some of your disbelief. I've always liked that about him. I think his writing style helps, as it's got a good balance between conveying the tension and so on, but still adding in wit. And I am in awe of his ability to create those 'impossible but not really' plots.

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    1. Yes, Margot, great analysis. I think you enter into a deal with him - the reader will not ask too many questions, and in return he will come up with a sumptuous plot. And on the whole he sticks to his half of the contract.

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  6. Very glad you enjoyed this one, Moira - I recently reread it and had forgotten most of the details. It really is one of Carr's best. And for those who say that traditional mysteries never had believable characters, I'd commend this one to them as refutation.

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    1. Excellent point, Les - they are very well-rounded and memorable in this one.

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  7. Moira: I have another Carr buried in the TBR boxes. Maybe later this year.

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    1. Perhaps it's better if you don't like it Bill - there are so many of them, and it's all too easy to become addicted!

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  8. I must read this one, Moira. I recently read The Emperor's Snuff-box and had the same sort of reaction. The plot is far-fetched, but you are just carried along by the brio of the writing and it works.

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    1. Exactly, you can't look for any kind of realism from JDC...

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  9. I have a list of a top one - The Judas Window (unread as yet). I think that's me covered.

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    1. Judas Window is a good one - and remember, if you like it there's another 50 you can buy and store in a tub...

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  10. I still haven't gotten to reading anything by this author, and am glad to have a suggestion for a really good one. I will be checking back with Sergio's post and maybe I will find more at the book sale this year. I did not see any last year.

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    1. Sergio's list is excellent Tracy - I have read most of them, but the list means I know which ones to go back to. I'm sure you would enjoy some of them.

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