Suddenly at his Residence by Christianna Brandaka The Crooked Wreath
LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES
[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.