Our group of crime fiction fans has been choosing an author each month to write about on Tuesdays: this month we’ve decided to go for a theme instead, and picked Travel and Holidays/Vacations – in any way the blogger chooses to interpret it.
New and casual participants are always welcome: just send your link to me or one of the others, or put it in the comments below. Or you can do a guest blog for one of the regulars.
Thanks to Bev, as ever, for the excellent logo – that’s us going up the gangplank to murder…
Curt listed all the Tuesday Night Bloggers’ links over at his Passing Tramp website here, for week 1.
Week 2 links here.
And my friend Bill from Mysteries and More wrote this entry a while back on a PI visiting Hawaii -
Aloha, Candy Hearts by Anthony Bidulka
-- what a great title!
For this week’s entry, I was originally going to look at the reasons that holidays provide such great settings for crime stories. But fellow Tuesday-night-er Kate Jackson forestalled me – she did such an amazingly complete and fascinating post last week that there’s nothing left to say. It’s highly recommended and it’s here.
So I decided to think small instead. I took one of my favourite holiday-related crime stories: a really obscure book from 1959, set in a grand hotel on the fictional Channel Isle of Lyonesse. I re-read it, looking specifically for ways in which the holiday-ing population of murder victims, culprits, accidental witnesses and star-crossed lovers might be typical of their time, and might reflect the differences between 1959 and 2016.
The Bonetts aren’t remembered much as detective story writers, but I think should be re-discovered.
No Grave for a Lady by John and Emery Bonettpublished 1959 or 1960 – not clear
Last week I looked at the 1957 Nicholas Blake book, End of Chapter, and there was some excellent discussion here and on social media on the question of books set in publishers’ offices. It was only when I cracked open this one that I remembered that it has a publishing setting too: Andrew and Ashe Adams have just started their own business, the finances are dicey, and their star author, Lumina Flowers, may have libelled an aging German film actress, Lotte Liselotte. She is on holiday in Lyonesse, so author and publishers head off there to try to stage a fake-chance-meeting and persuade her not to sue. The Bonetts’ series character, Professor Mandrake, happens to be holidaying there too.
The book is almost more of a novel than a crime story – we know from the beginning who will die, but it doesn’t happen till page 170 of a 205-page book. By that time we are invested in the plotlines, and saddened by what happens. We get to know a large cast of characters – all well-defined, I had no problem keeping them straight – and a lot of the book is about their relationships and problems. There are plenty of jokes and funny observations on life and on holidays and on femmes fatales.
Lotte cool and elegant in her sundress…
It reads more like a Persephone or Virago reprint at times – and that is most certainly a compliment. I’m always surprised that it was written by a couple – it very much feels like a woman’s book, and much of it is seen through Ashe’s eyes as she worries about her husband, Andrew, and his time spent with Lumina, the pretty, childless, bath-hogging (see below) author. However the male pov may be coming in at the times when you want to tell Ashe to slap her husband round the face, and Lumina too: the book is rather keen on her being clever and pretending to be cool about it, which led to some harrumphing round here.
And now, on to my list of key differences and similarities:
1) This is an up-market, fancy hotel for the monied classes, but no-one has a private bathroom.
Seven o’clock was zero hour for the hotel hot-water system. Blistering or carefully oiled grown-ups preparing to dress for dinner vied with the harassed mums of sand-grimed, over-excited children who had somehow to be got to bed. With less on their minds, the grown-ups won every time, and Ashe found herself keeping one eye on the nearest bathroom door for three-quarters of an hour while with divided attention she unpacked basic necessities for her own and her family’s first night at Lyonesse. When at last the bath-water gurgled out, the pink and fragrant person who emerged was Lumina Flower, which was about all she needed to endear herself to Ashe.Not particularly relevant to the murder in this case, though there is some bathwater in Agatha Christie’s ur-holiday text, Evil Under the Sun.
2) Sunshine. There is an awareness that being out in the sun too long is a bad idea, and that wearing cream would be a good idea.
3) There is a surprising amount about men’s shirts, and how washable they are. One character only has one shirt, which he washes each day. The ones in this advert would be perfect.
4) Dress codes
‘Is it nice at Floris Point?’ [Nearest town to the hotel]‘Cloff’ is my favourite phonetic spelling this year. (The speaker is a Rough Boy). But surprisingly, the rules are much less strict for women, and it is made clear that a woman in trousers CAN visit the casino.
‘Oh yes. There’s everything; Woolworths and fish-and-chips and pin-tables and movies. There’s a casino but we can’t go there. They won’t let you in until you got proper long trousers. Jeans won’t do. They got to be cloff.’
5) Everyone brings masses of clothes with them – 14 evening dresses for some women – and many suitcases, and endless time has to be spent unpacking (2 separate sessions) at the beginning of the holiday, and then packing up at the end – there is much discussion, and plenty of time set aside, for both these things.
6) People write letters in the hotel writing-room, on hotel writing-paper. Bless.
7) Television – there is a lot of comment on who has TV and who doesn’t. The Rough Boys are very familiar with it, but the main family doesn’t have TV because they are both poor, and upmarket intellectuals. It is seen as a class indicator.
8) Everyone is surprised that WW2 is still a subject of interest and controversy – they’d have expected that all to be history now. There is an idea for a joke best-seller: I was Hitler’s Dog. Sadly we don’t seem to have moved on at all from this.
9) There is plenty of discussion of how to bring up children which, with minor changes, could be put it any modern novel. Are parents too careful, do they zoom in to help too much, should children be allowed to play on their own? May they mix with the Rough Boys?
There is a splendid moment where another parent asks Ashe to dance:
‘My daughter hit your son on the head with a two-masted schooner. I think it’s fair to consider that an introduction.’Ashe’s response, ‘from force of habit’ is ‘What had Benjy done to her first?’
Mind you, the hotel takes quite a sniffy view of children, despite being happy to take their parents’ money – I think this may have been very typical of the times, and one hopes has changed a bit.
So lots of great period details – and plenty of wonderful clothes too, which I hope I have reflected in the pictures. There is a tremendous final-night-dinner scene with everyone in their best outfits and all kinds of undercurrents and tensions.
There was an earlier entry on this book some time ago, concerning Ashe’s stockings, and making very similar points – I said Ashe is ‘torn between child, childcare, work and marriage, & fears she has missed out all round’ and that it could be a novel from now in that respect…
Lotte’s sundress from Kristine’s photostream. Other pictures from adverts of the era.