Our Tuesday Night Bloggers – an informal group of crime fiction fans writing about a different author each month – have moved on to Phoebe Atwood Taylor.
All contributions to the meme are welcome – and if anyone wants to guest-blog here on Taylor do let me know, there’s space here…
Last week’s contributions were collected by Curt at the Passing Tramp here.
Logo courtesy of Bev Hankins from My Reader’s Block.
File for Record by Phoebe Atwood Taylorpublished 1943
[Suzanne Quarl has taken a job delivering heating oil to households, to help out in wartime]
Leonidas said: …’Tell me just one more thing – er- why -er why did you – er- choose to wear a mink coat on such a job?’
‘Why,’ Suzanne said simply, ‘I have just two decent cloth coats to my name, and they’ve got to do for the duration. You can’t get wool, you know. Only three per cent mouse fur, six per cent rat hair, nine per cent old pasteboard, and the rest milk. I’m certainly not going to wear out my good cloth coats messing around in the oil business!’
‘I see. Er – just using up the old mink. Er -m’yes.’ Leonidas could see the twinkle in Meiklejohn’s eyes. ‘M’yes. Very thrifty and prudent of you, I’m sure. Dear me, yes!’
commentary: Last week I covered the first of Taylor’s Asey Mayo books, The Cape Cod Mystery. She wrote a second series as Alice Tilton, featuring investigator Leonidas Witherall. He looks like William Shakespeare, lives in Boston, and solves crimes.
This book had a rather splendid WW2 setting – plenty of detail of rationing and (to my surprise) blackouts. I had no idea there was a fear of enemy bombing on the East Coast – and was very interested to find this reminiscence from Barbara Yeoman, a resident of Cambridge Massachusetts, online:
There were blackouts in preparation for possible enemy bombing attacks. I feared planes bombing our homes but learned later that blackouts were also needed so that city lights would not silhouette our ships in the harbor for the prowling U-boats. No lights were allowed, not even the tiny radio dial light. Blackout curtains were in every window. Air raid wardens patrolled the streets with their white helmets and arm bands. When the Air Raid sirens screeched warnings, the wardens would tell everyone to get off the streets and go into their homes. A cheer would go up when the ``all clear'' sounded.This is very much what is described in the book (although there is something suspicious about this particular event…) and there is also a lot of detail of rationing and shortages. Much of the action centres on two Victory Swaps, social events where locals swap goods they have for what they need. One of the main characters has made a Lady Baltimore cake for swapping: luckily for you readers, I know more about this obscure and half-forgotten bakery item than seems feasible. I even read a lost book about the cake – a full rundown can be found in a blogpost here.
[ADDED LATER: and have realized that the reason I had this book on my shelves was because my good friend Noah Stewart recommended it for its Lady Baltimore content....]
And – yet another favoured Clothes in Books feature – we have a department store, and a stocking sale. As in the Colm Toibin novel Brooklyn, as in Elizabeth Smart’s By Grand Central Station, as in an authoritative look at stockings in literature that I did for the Guardian here.
And there are mink coats everywhere on the blog – I just used a picture for James Bond on Friday. I loved the very reasonable explanation above as to why Suzanne was wearing a mink coat in the oil delivery truck – and, it reminded me of the non-fiction Merchant of Prato where we found out that your furs were not your expensive clothes in 14th & 15th Century Italy.
Beyond all that – from what I can gather, this was a typical example of the Leonidas books: full of comic mishaps, strange goings-ons. A collection of eccentric people finding clues, losing each other, getting knocked out, trying to solve a mystery.
The Wikipedia description of the series seemed to sum it up well:
[In each book] Witherall is confronted with a corpse under unusual ….circumstances, requiring him to enlist a motley crew of assistants, use disguise and impersonation to escape discovery, and engage in at least one scavenger-hunt-like chase before solving the crime. Once in every novel, Witherall references the radio program's constant repetition of "Cannae"—an ancient battle….This mention of Cannae means that Witherall is about to marshal his assistants as part of a clever scheme to deliver the murderer to justice.I thought the book was amusing and entertaining, but too long, just too many characters and new incidents. I might read another one, but only after a gap. But I did very much enjoy the WW2 homefront setting and details.
Mink picture from the invaluable Kristine’s photostream.