Aka A Wreath for Rivera
[The Breezy Bellairs jazz band is planning something different for their nightclub appearance]
‘Did you say,’ asked the tympanist, ‘that we finish up with a funeral march? Was that what you said?’
‘Played in the Breezy Bellairs Manner, Syd.’
‘It was what he said, boys,’ said the pianist. ‘We sign ourselves off with a corpse and muffled drums. Come to the Metronome for a gay evening.’
‘I disagree entirely,’ Mr Rivera interposed. He rose gracefully. His suit was dove-grey with a widish pink stripe. Its shoulders seemed actually to curve upwards. He was bronzed. His hair swept back from his forehead and ears in thick brilliant waves. He had flawless teeth, a slight moustache and large eyes and he was tall. ‘I like the idea,’ he said. ‘It appeals to me. A little macabre, a little odd, perhaps, but it has something. I suggest, however, a slight alteration. It will be an improvement if, on the conclusion of Lord Pastern’s solo, I draw the rod and shoot him. He is then carried out and I go into my hot number. It will be a great improvement.’
‘Listen, Carlos –’
‘I repeat, a great improvement.’ The pianist laughed pointedly and the other grinned.
commentary: So obviously any experienced crime story reader knows that a fake shooting on stage is going to result in death for someone. Especially anyone who has already read Enter A Murderer, Marsh’s earlier book (1935) in which a theatrical performance of a thriller includes a lot of messing around with a gun, and ends in murder. This book is something of a cross between that one, and Death in a White Tie – more toffs in trouble.
Here we have eccentric Lord Pastern and Bagott - and this is one of the infuriating aspects of the book, and one Marsh’s editors should have put a stop to. He is Lord Pastern-and-Bagott in effect, all one title, but there is no punctuation in the title, just the three words ‘Pastern and Bagott’. Except sometimes they are called just Pastern. But every time it comes up as the full title, it trips the reader up, it is hard to read and doesn’t make sense, but at the same time it is unnecessary and pointless, and adds absolutely nothing to the book or the characters. And if we read
-- well, most of us commoners are picturing two people coming in and wondering who the hell Bagott is (the butler? the gigolo? the former governess?) It is not as it if it is a common formation of title in the UK. Maddening.Lady Pastern and Bagott advanced from the far end of a long roomand later:The door opened and Lord Pastern and Bagott came trippingly into the room
This irritating lord wants to be the drummer in a jazz band. There is drug smuggling, troubled romances, and a secretive magazine agony uncle. I found the whole thing rather tiresome – Marsh is such a good, funny writer sometimes: then other times, like this one, she plods through a lot of dreary stuff about good taste and being well-born. As ever it is clear who is the nice girl and who isn’t, and there is a funny phrase about a young woman ‘shaking her curls’ at Inspector Alleyn (who is completely irresistible to every woman, apparently, in an extremely unconvincing and annoying way).
Félicité’s eyes, under her triple plumage, stared back with the glazed distaste (so suggestive of the unwitting influence of Mr John Gielgud) that characterizes the modish photograph.The ‘plumage’ consists of the ostrich feathers which were an essential piece of headwear for young women being presented at court. I used to imagine them as great giant feathers waving above their heads, but the new era of Google and photos on the internet enabled me to see that they are much neater and more attractive.
There is some implication that they represented the Prince of Wales’s heraldic device, though this doesn’t seem sufficient reason to force all those generations of women to wear them on their head.
The top picture is from the ever-wonderful Gottlieb collection of jazz portraits at the Library of Congress. This is Cab Calloway, most certainly not the gigolo-type, nor likely to be caught up in a murder…