Friday, 27 May 2016

Book of 1957 : Furnished for Murder by Elizabeth Ferrars



published 1957



Furnished for Murder



She took a cigarette herself and let the stranger light it for her. She was a small woman of thirty-five, slender, neat and unobtrusive, with brown crisply curling hair that was parted in the middle and drawn back into a tight little knot. She had gentle brown eyes and small fine features. Her skin, naturally fair, had the biscuity tinge and the reddening on the cheekbones that comes from spending a great deal of time, all the year round, out of doors. She was wearing a green and red tartan skirt and red woollen jumper. “The rent,” she said, looking out of the window as she said it, finding it too hard to meet the man’s eyes when she spoke of money, “is four guineas a week.” He nodded, as if he knew this.


 
commentary: I’m sliding in a last-minute extra book for 1957 and Rich Westwood’s Past Offences meme.

Elizabeth Ferrars wrote a ton of books, and had more detectives than you could shake a stick at, many of them appearing in only a few books. This is a very typical example – not the best and not the worst. (There are quite a few others on the blog: click on her name label below to see others.)

My first 1957 book, Nicholas Blake’s End of Chapter, was very much a city affair, with smoky busy London another character. This is the opposite – a classic rural mystery, set in a village with a big house, a lot of busybody middle classes having drinks together, and some comic servants in the offing.

Meg, the woman above, has just let her cottage to a mysterious and sinister stranger. Meanwhile, there has been an unexpected inheritance, a failed love affair, a divorcee returning, and a man who might be an impostor. Everyone talks to each other in short brittle sentences, and they are forever arriving somewhere and then leaving shortly afterwards. There are worrying phonecalls, a strange reflection which means people can peer into each other’s rooms, and a lot of discussion of potential wickedness.

I particularly liked the woman who says:
“In my view, which is frankly old-fashioned,” Miss Harbottle said, “early youth is an almost entirely evil period, and it’s only if people are very very kind and clever with one that one is sometimes successfully tamed. I can remember, in my own childhood, being savage, destructive, envious and dishonest. As to the taming process . . .”
Typically, the next sentence is ‘the telephone rang.’ Every conversation is interrupted in this way, though not – as the experienced crime reader might think – so revelations can be delayed and secret-keepers knocked off.

I also liked the writer Marcus, getting incensed about income tax:
[He] found his own anger and excitement rather enjoyable, a fact of which he was perfectly aware, as he was aware of most of his own quirks. The lashing up of his own rage at a time when he felt certain that his audience was bound to sympathise with its excesses was a luxury to which he treated himself almost as deliberately as he might buy a bottle of wine. Yet the rage itself was entirely genuine, tending to make him even blinder than usual to what was going on around him.
Funny and recognizable.

The solution – well there was a very small cast of characters, and I’d rather lost interest by the end, but (as in so many books) it was odd that murderous types who have gone to extreme lengths to cover up crimes will then confess for apparently no reason at all – that was rather disappointing.

As a book of 1957: there was the ranting on income tax, people still pleased that butter is off the ration, and a discussion of the law on furnished tenancies. The wonders of penicillin are still very new.

The whole thing seemed a very convincing picture of a 1950s English village, but then everything I know is based on murder stories of the time, so I may not truly be able to judge.

A good average mystery…

Picture from the Clover Vintage Tumbler.













17 comments:

  1. Oh, I know just what you mean, Moira, by 'a good average mystery. I've read a few of Ferrars' books, and some of them really are quite well-written. Many are less so, but that makes sense given how prolific she was. Still, it sounds as though this one captures the times well.

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    1. I very much enjoyed it as a 1957 book. And I know 'good average mystery' would sound like an insult to some, I think you probably understand that sometimes that's exactly what you want to read!

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  2. I hope I run into more Ferrars books at the book sale this year. I am sure I can find them easily online but it is more fun to find them there. It is only 4 months away as my husband keeps reminding me.

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    1. Absolutely Tracy. I think that she was published as EX Ferrars in the USA, something to do with not sounding too female, so remember to look out for that.

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    2. At least they used the same last name. Last year I found two UK editions at the book sale, and I still have one of them to read. (Too many books to read!) I used to confuse her with E. X. Giroux but now I have them straight.

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    3. I don't even know who Giroux is. We need to carry reference books round with us when we go book-buying.

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    4. I don't know much about Giroux, except that her real name was Doris Shannon. I read the first in a series (published in the 80s and 90s) called A Death for Adonis about 6 years ago and I liked it OK but never searched for more of the books. The protagonist is a barrister who does not practice.

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    5. Ooh sounds interesting. I have just ordered the first one in a cheap 2nd hand edition, though it will take a while to arrive as coming from USA.

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    6. I do hope you like it. I admit just looking into the series a bit more rekindled my interest. I will wait for the book sale to look for more.

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  3. I have MURDER IN TIME on my TBR on your say so (a while ago, I know - I'm a bit behind with my reading ...)

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    1. I would feel guilty, but I have plenty of books on my shelf to blame you for in various ways - including the Vin Packer which arrived today...

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  4. Her real name was apparently Morna MacTaggart, which sounds much more striking that Elizabeth Ferrars. I'm sure that I read one of her some time back, although the fact that I can't remember anything about it probably says something. During her lifetime her books were always amongst those most borrowed from public libraries. She was always well respected by her peers,highly prolific, and generally successful. She does, however, seem to lack that certain something that kicked some of her contemporaries into orbit. That said, I'd love to read the response she wrote to John Wyndham, who had written a rather stuffy article saying that boring old detective fiction was on the way out, to be replaced by exciting new SF.

    Nice photo at the top. It reminds me of an outfit that Dinah Sheridan wore in GENEVIEVE, which was from around the same era as this book.

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    1. Interesting - that is a fancy name. YOu can see her as one of those library authors - customers coming in and asking for another by her, ticking off a list, no surprises or shocks. But as you say, lacking that something extra. Yes that exchange with Wyndham would be interesting...
      What a classic, and film of its time, Genevieve was - a great favourite of my parents who lined us up to watch it on TV.

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  5. Moira, I have never read Elizabeth Ferrars. There is candid humour in her narrative which I like. As to "a good average mystery," I read quite a few of them every year except they are not just mysteries.

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    1. If you come across Ferrars in your second-hand searches do give her a go - perhaps she could fit into one of your buying-books-by-weight expeditions, then it's not such a huge investment if you don't like her!

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  6. Replies
    1. No, the gruesome/noir level isn't high enough for you...

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