Sunday, 12 June 2016

Dress Down Sunday: Room for a Weapon?

 

Suddenly at his Residence by Christianna Brand

aka The Crooked Wreath

published 1946


 
LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES


 
Suddenly at his Residence
 

[The inquest into the death of Sir Richard: his family’s activities are under discussion]

‘Excuse me madam; I think you told us that you walked down to the lodge, that evening before Sir Richard died, in your – pardon me! - your bathing dress?’

‘Yes I did.’

‘Her ladyship and Miss Peta met you on the lawn,’ said Billock … ‘They said it would have been impossible for you to be carrying anything in your hands without their seeing it; or to have had anything – pardon me! – anywhere about your person.’

‘Well if you mean I hadn’t got any pockets in my bathing-dress, I certainly hadn’t,’ said Ellen, still more astonished. ‘There’s only about half an inch of it anyway. It’s a sort of kestos-and-pants thing.’

Mr Billock shuddered. He repudiated further interest in the shameless garment. ‘You couldn’t, for instance, have been carrying a – er – a hipper – a hyper’ he took a deep breath – ‘a hipperdromic syringe?’

 
commentary: In last week’s entry on Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals, there was some discussion of Margo’s two-piece bathing suit in the 1930s. In the comments, blogfriend Lucy Fisher mentioned ‘a girl in a GA mystery… in a bathing suit which she refers to as a "kestos and pants affair".’

(Apparently a kestos was the first bra with separated cups, and briefly was so popular it became the generic name for a bra - cf hoover in the UK.)

We wondered which mystery it was, and clever old Daniel Milford-Cottam came up with this:
The Crooked Wreath by Christianna Brand, according to Google Books, which also tells me the wearer couldn't have concealed a "hipper-dromic syringe" in her "kestos-and-pants affair"
A book that I knew under its English title, Suddenly at his Residence. So luckily I had a copy, and naturally had to re-read. And now we are in more ‘weapons under the clothes’ territory, bringing back last year’s joyous entry on Agatha Christie’s Murder in the Vicarage, when the comments box was filled with knowledgeable and opinionated remarks on whether you could hide a gun under a flimsy dress. Do, please, bring it on again this time if you have any views at all on hidden weapons and skimpy clothes…

In this book, the head of the family has hidden himself away in a lodge, and dies. The question is a) how the murderer got there, as there are perfectly smooth paths along the way (oh how this took me back to John Dickson Carr’s She Died a Lady) and/or b) how the poison could have been transported to the lodge. In order to increase the mysteriousness, the women of the household wander round in their skimpy bathing suits in a frankly unlikely way – really? Posh family, 1944, at the family country house? Where they are all trying to suck up to the elderly moneybags who thinks they are too frivolous? But the principle is established.

In the end the solution to the locked room aspect of the mystery is something even more bizarre than the ideas at the inquest, something even Dickson Carr might have balked at.

The book is slight, and short, though filled with ideas – Brand is always the one for plenty of alternate theories which are then discarded. In this case: could someone have painted clear nail varnish over her fingertips in order to avoid leaving fingerprints? We are never told for sure whether this would actually work.

In true GA style, everyone is thrilled to bits with the idea that the gardener might have done it, saving the toffs, but I think Brand is having a little ironical fun here. The gardener’s wife is a majestic and scarey character: I liked her referring to her husband as ‘scum that he was’.

I was surprised by a reference to Dr Kildare, whom I think of as a 60s TV figure – but a quick check revealed that he was created by the very productive Max Brand (I know him for his westerns) in the 1930s. (Presumably no relation to Christianna.)

Picture from Kristine’s photostream, showing the unmatchable Rita Hayworth in 1945.























20 comments:

  1. I do think Brand was good at ironic wit, Moira, and she doesn't always get the credit she deserves for that. The snippet you shared also shows an interesting look at the manners of the time (how do you ask a lady about a skimpy swimsuit?). Hmmm....now you've got me thinking about weapons that could hidden somewhere in someone's skimpy outfit....

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    1. Oh please do a blogpost on that Margot! It's such an intriguing question...

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    2. Make the weapon part of the swimsuit. A metal stay with a sharpened tip, or shoulder straps fastened with large decorative pins. And it would be easy to remove a thin cord that was part of a halter suit and use it as a garrote.

      (Sorry. My former line of work required me to think the unthinkable on a regular basis).

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    3. Brilliant, Shay! I am so glad I am not your mortal enemy. I kind of knew you would have something good to say. May we ask about your former line of work...?

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    4. Bioterrorism and Public Health Planner.

      (before that, among other things, I was a Marine).

      I am retired and now just muddle around with the Red Cross for fun.

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    5. Whoa, impressive. Should be writing your own books - do you?

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    6. I have written some short Western stories. Needless to say, none are published, nor are they likely to be.

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  2. It does surprise me that two piece bathing suits were in use at that time. Lovely picture of Rita Hayworth although I did not recognize her at first. She is one of my favorite movie stars, partly because she was a talented tap dancer (and other types of dancing too).

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    1. I love her too. My two favourite dance scenes in any musical are: Rita with Fred doing the Shorty George, in You Were Never Lovelier, and Fred with Eleanor Powell doing Begin the Beguine in Broadway Melody of 1940. What are yours?

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    2. Now that is too hard. I agree on the Shorty George for sure, and the Eleanor Powell number is wonderful too. One of my very favorites is James Cagney in the “Yankee Doodle Dandy” number in the movie of the same name; and I am also very fond of the Shanghai Lil number in Footlight Parade (Cagney and Ruby Keeler).

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    3. Yes to both, particularly Shanghai Lil. Also I could mention some of the Fred & Ginger - Cheek to Cheek particularly.

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  3. A part of me wants to re-read all of Brand because I loved her so much, Moira. (They're sitting right there on my shelf calling to me.) But then so many others find fault with her that I'm afraid i wouldn't be as positively inclined on a second go-round. (This has happened with a number of books I've loved and then re-read.) Brand was always special to me!

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    1. Oh me too Brad! I have been re-reading them slowly - and kind of expecting not to be impressed. But they are still so enjoyable. Don't be put off!

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  4. If I can find a copy I may just give this one a go. Luckily she seems to have drifted in and out of print, so there should be some reaonable second-hand copies about.

    There was a whole series of DR KILDARE movies in the '30s, with Lew Ayres as the title character and Lionel Barrymore as Dr Gillespie. I also used to think that he was a '60s character until I saw one of those movies. Mind you, I used to think the same about Perry Mason, and he also had a pile of movies made about him in the '30s.

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    1. I grew up watching old 30s movies on TV, so I was familiar with both Drs. Kildare. One day when I was about 13 I was walking home from school with my best friend. As we crossed the small side street that led to the main MGM studios lot (directly across from our school), who should pull up at the crosswalk? Dr. Kildare himself! Richard Chamberlain was driving a baby blue Corvette and wearing a fur trimmed parka. No, this memory wasn't totally seared into my brain, ha! We said 'hi,' and he waved and said 'hi' back. We were floating for weeks afterward.

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    2. Ggary: as Brad says, she's rather out of favour now, but I think she stands up well. I'm glad it wasn't just me who was misled about Dr Kildaire, and no, wouldn't have known about Perry Mason either.
      Paula: Oh my goodness! Lucky you. He was such a heartthrob. I can still see him in the opening credits of DR K...

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  5. Moira: I think the art of weapons concealment in skimpy swimsuits is best addressed by women.

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    1. Fair enough Bill. And Shay certainly has a go above!

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