Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Fear Stalks the Village by Ethel Lina White



published 1932


 
Fear Stalks the Village tennis



[Joan] wore a sleeveless white tennis-frock and silver slave-bangles on her brown arms.

[Julia] carried four racquets under her arm, and was complete in a short, white, sleeveless tennis frock, and eye-shade.

[Ada] wore a sleeveless white frock of cheap crêpe-de-Chine, silk stockings of the shade known as ‘muddy water’, and silver slave-bangles on her shapely arms.


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[Later, a non-tennis party]
 
Fear Stalks the Village new dressMiss Asprey’s party really seemed an omen of happier days. There were no refusals… Joan Brook, who welcomed every distraction, was in excellent spirits. When Ada brought her cucumber sandwiches, she welcomed her with a friendly smile, for Joan was fortunate in having no sense of social values.

“Ada,” she said, “I dare you to copy my new dress. I don’t want to be wiped out by you again.” Ada did not attempt to contradict the obvious fact of her superior beauty, but she did her best to make her voice sound convincing. “Well, miss, they do say there’s some that prefer dark girls.”

“I’m not one of them,” said Joan. “If I were you, Ada, I’d go straight to Hollywood.”
 




observations: What a delight this was: I first became aware of it over at Rich Westwood’s Past Offences, and he told me that it was ‘quite clothesy #justsaying’. It’s about poison pen letters – always a favourite theme of mine, with a whole weekful of books and analysis on the blog last year.

I found it tense and intriguing: we are introduced to a village that seems picture perfect, with lovely happy inhabitants. So that can’t be true, can it? Once the letters start coming, everything falls apart. White has a very melodramatic way of personifying the Fear (as in the title) which got a bit much, but she was very good at building an atmosphere, and showing apparently calm characters, then slowly revealing the neuroses and worries below. It’s all a bit like the Mapp and Lucia books gone disastrously, criminally wrong.

The Rector asks Ada, who is respectful and polite but has hidden depths, where she is off out to: she virtuously replies that she is going to see her new baby brother. The Rector says to the doctor that he hadn’t realized there was a new baby in the family ‘how old is he?’
“About twenty-six,” replied the doctor. “He’s the Squire’s new chauffeur.”
The Rector laughed heartily at himself. “Fell for it, didn’t I? She took me up the garden.”
There is a woman who didn’t marry her beloved – her parents say ‘I sometimes wonder if we were wise when we wouldn’t let Vivian marry young Belson. After all, he was killed in the War’ – the point being (in case you suspected a nicer regret) that they wouldn’t have had to mix with his plainly lower-class family after all. Vivian herself has a quite different regret – that she didn’t sleep with him before he died – and this sketchy and pale character (often compared disparagingly with the main young woman in the book) suddenly comes to life for one scene.

There is a splendid line for Curtis Evans and his Passing Tramp blog: a woman says she can’t go out and leave the house empty ‘
accepting the current fiction that any unprotected woman could foil the felony of the most brutal tramp, by merely sitting in her own drawing room.
And on top of all this, White tells you what everyone is wearing, and also traces how the beautiful maid, Ada, copies the clothes of the other women. l liked Joan challenging her with this, above, so have made sure that the new dress - the black and white one -  would look better on her than on Ada (who is blonde). Fear Stalks the Village reseda 2

Miss Mack has a best frock in ‘printed reseda-green foulard’ - I had never heard of this but it is a real colour and you can see a sample of it on this colour chart page. It is something like the colour of this dress to the right:



Though a print foulard would look more like this one below:
 
Fear Stalks the Village reseda-green



There is a lady novelist who sounds like a cross between Dorothy L Sayers and Margery Allingham (in appearance and manner, not in her writing) who wears ‘an infantile Buster Brown blouse adorned with wide collar and ribbon bow’ – Buster Brown was a cartoon character who wore this distinctive collar.

Fear Stalks the Village buster brown
 

I could have done with more explanation at the end – some of the plot strands seemed unresolved – but overall this was a really good read. Up till now I had only read White’s The Wheel Spins/The Lady Vanishes, but I will certainly look out for more.
All the big pictures are from the NYPL, a collection of 1930s fashion illustrations. 






















16 comments:

  1. Very interesting. This is on my - alas, too lengthy - TBR list at the moment, along with some other books. An intriguing writer.

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    1. Those TBR lists, I know. This one was very enjoyable, and I am definitely going to read more.

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  2. Ah, yes, the peaceful, 'perfect' village that's hiding all sorts of things. Definitely a great context for a novel, Moira, and I'm glad you enjoyed this one. And I know what you mean about building the atmosphere too. When that's done well, it does keep you reading.

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    1. WE crime book fans know better than to believe in the peaceful village, don't we Margot? The more perfect it seems on the surface, the bigger the secrets below....

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  3. I thought you'd like this one Moira. I've got a 'box set' of 7 ELW novels I bought earlier in the year for Kindle, 3 down, 4 to go.

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    1. yes, thanks for the tipoff. I must go and see what is available on Kindle....

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  4. The Lady Vanishes? As in the Hitchcock? That sounds tempting too.

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    1. Yes indeed - I have it on my shelves, so must have read it years ago, and am now keen to read it again. The Wheel Spins was the original title of the book, I think, but it is now published under the name of the Hitchcock film.

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  5. This sound great, Moira, and I actually have it on my e-reader - I downloaded the same box set as Pastoffences, but haven't got round to reading them yet. And isn't it a great title? You couldn't get with it these days!

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    1. Oh do try it Chrissie, I'd love to hear what you think of it. To me it was everything a good old-fashioned GA mystery should be. And yes, the title....

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  6. I quite like a bit of over-the-top melodrama now and then: recently I've read her Some Must Watch (another one where the name changes for the film, The Spiral Staircase) - very creepy - and Wax - sort of silly but also one where you start to check that you locked all the doors...

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    1. I definitely need that boxset I think. Atmosphere was obviously her thing, and that's always appealing.

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  7. I haven't read anything by this author and I would like to. Most interested in The Wheel Spins because of the movie but I will probably try other books also. The extracts from the book for this one don't entice me but the poison pen letters sound interesting.

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    1. I'm definitely going to read some more. Looking at the summaries her range of settings was quite varied. I really liked the village in this one, and would have liked more, but apparently there will be other kinds of settings....

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  8. Replies
    1. No pleasing you - we've been having a too-gentle couple of weeks on the blog...

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