Sunday, 31 July 2016

Dress Down Sunday: Corpse Diplomatique by Delano Ames

 
pulbished 1950
 

LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES

 
 
Corpse Diplomatique 1


[Jane and her husband Dagobert are staying in the South of France, and investigating a crime. She is going for a swim at the beach]


Corpse Diplomatique 2
Just beneath us we had both simultaneously recognized the body of Suzette – on further inspection she was wearing two bits of beige material which could be called a bathing suit, and stretched beside her was Dagobert. They were eating choux a la crème and chocolate eclairs.

We climbed down the concrete steps and joined them. They were talking animatedly in French, but broke off when they saw us…
Joe retired to a cabin to change while I slipped out of my dressing-gown. I felt over-clad in my one-piece navy blue bathing suit from Harvey Nichols. Suzette examined it in wonder, evidently taking it for some kind of fancy dress. After a moment’s stare she put on her large sun-glasses and returned to the more interesting occupation of picking the scarlet varnish off her toe-nails.

Corpse diplomatique 3



commentary: As sleuthing couples go, Jane and Dagobert aren’t bad – there are worse out there. I’ve covered two other Ames books on the blog - Murder Begins at Home (set on a ranch in New Mexico) and Murder Maestro Please – set in the Pyrenees and with some similar tropes to this one.

Our happy pair are staying in a pension in the south of France: one of the residents, Major Arkwright, is murdered, and Dagobert (for no good reason) decides to investigate. I found the beginning of the book very confusing, and wondered if I’d missed a chapter or two out at one point, as there appeared to have been all kinds of people and events that I had no recollection of. I didn’t really get to the bottom of this, because the narrative picked up and I just carried on, enjoying the weird collection of people assembled in the boarding-house.

Jane is supposedly writing a murder story based on the events, and this was rather meta and very annoying. It also seemed an unexpectedly modern touch, although much else was of its time: everyone drank hugely the whole time, there was a lot of consciously-modern discussion of open marriages, and Jane is not long married and hasn’t yet given up her own passport to have herself added to her husband’s. (Hard to believe, but presumably this was what young women did in those days.)

My friend Col over at the Criminal Library looked at this book last year, and gives a much more coherent idea of the plot than I have. I enjoyed the investigations, but there were rather of the Jessica-Fletcher mode: everyone is given a motive, everyone is suspected in turn, and in the end a solution is pulled out of the hat. But it was an enjoyable read, and as Col says, ‘You get a feel for the life of a small hotel owner and the travelling tourist’, and very much a feel for the times.

The pictures are fashion adverts of the era – I love illos of vintage swimwear – see also this entry on Ellery Queen and these pictures of what to wear over your swimsuitMax Murray’s The King and the Corpse, the book in questions, has some similarities with the Ames – it’s a 1949 murder story set in the South of France…












16 comments:

  1. Moira, it's interesting how the same books reviewed by different readers appear so dissimilar, especially aesthetically. I read your review and then reread Col's take and it felt as if I was reading two different books! And yet, you both enjoyed this book.

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    1. That's so funny Prashant! I suppose it's natural that he and I would find something quite different in this book. But if we both liked it, it must be good...

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  2. This one does sound like a look at the times as much as anything else, Moira. That said, though, I can't help wondering about what felt like missing chapters. I'm curious now about the plot, just on that score; little wonder it felt confusing.

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    1. I pride myself on being able to follow reasonably complex plots, but this one threw me a bit! But I managed to enjoy it anyway...

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  3. Out of the four Ames novels I have read this is my least favourite. But I do like how Jane is much more proactive than other sleuthing wives can be such as in the Frances Crane and Margaret Scherf novels.

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    1. Yes, that's interesting, when this one is written by a man, not a woman... Don't think I've read Scherf - do you recommend?

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    2. I've only read one by her - Glass on the Stairs. The spouse sleuthing partnership is more infuriating than the one in Crane. The puzzle set in it isn't bad but the way it is solved is a bit irritating. So I wouldn't recommend this title but then I wouldn't rule out her others, since I haven't tried them so I don't know if this book is typical.

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    3. Another one for me to try! Sleuthing couples are such a good idea, full of potential, it's disappointing that so many of them don't live up to the possibilities.

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  4. Thanks Moira - I do want to try an Ames sooner or later, though i get the impression one does have to be in the right, er, frame of mind for it ...

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    1. Yes, you have to put aside your expectations. I think there is a category of routine 50s crime stories: I really enjoy reading them from time to time, but you have to put up with some weird and annoying attitudes, and in return you get an interesting view of life. And for me- good clothes!

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  5. I'd nearly forgotten I'd read this. A year on, definitely not tempted to revisit the author or his couple!

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    1. I suppose you dipped a toe in the waters of the South of France and that was enough...

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  6. Interesting. I read the first in the series early in July and fell in love with it. In that book, they are writing a mystery and it is their first. I liked that part of it.

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    1. I just looked Ames up to see which one that was (She Shall Have Murder, is it?) and was surprised to see how many there were in this series - and he wrote another series too. I'm happy to read any that turn up, though wouldn't be searching for them.

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  7. I enjoy these books as much for the wit and banter between Dagobert and his wife as for the mystery. They seem like a great couple.

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    1. Yes, I did like them, they have a nice relationship and, as you say, they have some nice dialogue.

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