Sunday, 25 September 2016

Dress Down Sunday: The Right Kind of Underwear

 

LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES


Murder Among Friends by Elizabeth Ferrars

published 1946

 
Murder Among Friends 1
 
‘You remember how she was dressed that evening at Cecily’s?’

‘I’m not likely to forget it,’ said Alice.

‘Well that was just typical of her,’ said Kitty. ‘And her underclothes too – they were always awfully good. You know what I mean, good heavy silk, well cut but no frivolity. She’d simply never have dared to wear a pair of pink satin cami-knickers or a chiffon nightdress. She’d have said in a slightly embarrassed way that she couldn’t see what use they were.’ Kitty laughed. ‘I tried to tell her once what use they were and she just looked cool and interested in my psychological peculiarities and rather amuse – by then, I suppose, she must have been able not to give away even her embarrassment. I thought marriage to Ian would cure her, but she seemed to go on being just as aloof and serious about everything…. I say, I’m sure I’m not telling you the sort of things you want to know. I’m sure Janet’s underclothes can’t have anything to do with the murder.’

‘I’m not so sure,’ said Alice. ‘The way a woman dresses and what she thinks about it always tells one a good deal about her.’

 
Murder Among Friends 2


commentary: My friend Tracy over at Bitter Tea and Mystery reviewed this in June, and I immediately ordered a copy – it has a WW2 setting (something we’re both fans of) and clothes play an important part…

I was impressed and intrigued by it – I like Ferrars, but this reads very differently from others by her. It is much less of a conventional detective story, and she was obviously trying to do something different, something very psychological.

A group of people gather for drinks in the blackout. We see the whole story through the eyes of Alice, who knows none of the other guests, only her hostess. One more guest, a writer, is due – he lives in the flat upstairs. Then, a murder takes place – discovered by a stranger – and it seems clear that it must have been someone at the party. The culprit seems obvious, and is arrested, tried and found guilty.

Alice – who was never under suspicion – thinks about the situation and the people involved, and sets out to discover more about the relationships. She wants to know what motivated the murderer. She talks to the other guests in turn, and begins to suspect that there may be more to the story. (It is interesting that she is NOT trying to prove the condemned person’s innocence to begin with, just trying to find out more.)

I’m not usually a fan of the straightforward ‘small, closed circle’ murder story – we all suspected X, but it turns out to be Y. Imagine. But this absolutely transcended the genre, I thought it was unputdownable. In fact it was more like a novel of relationships – we see the different characters through different eyes, and there are passing mentions of unmarried sex, adultery, homosexuality and abortions – these are respectable, if slightly Bohemian, people, but they have desires and make mistakes and live their lives. Alice feels that she is among ‘a group of utterly rootless people, living on their nerves, their gifts and their emotions in two-room flats’.

I found this very unusual in what might be thought of as a GA mystery. It reminded me much more of, for example, Rosamond Lehmann’s Echoing Grove, a serious novel, also full of scenes in the blackout in London. Ferrars’ characters are complex, three-dimensional, not easily divided into the bad and the good. Kitty describes herself as a young girl: ‘ I was lazy and frightfully stupid and always stuffing sweets and smoking on the quiet and telling any lie that’d make life more comfortable for me.’ I think that’s a brilliant characterisation – both the easily-imaginable teenager, and the older woman looking back with clarity.

And clothes are vital. There’s a scarf that matters, there’s a distinction between bobbed and shingled hair, and the colour of the dresses is very important. Many excellent outfits are described in detail – and, as the book says above, tell you about the character of the wearer.

Some of Ferrars’ later books resembled romantic thriller - adventures of a feisty young woman who is going to find love as well as uncover a crime – see for example this one, Alibi for a Witch. Murder Among Friends couldn’t be more different.

Top underwear ad is American and from much earlier, but looks like the right kind of thing.

The other picture, a 1940s advert, is the kind of thing Janet supposedly would avoid…


















20 comments:

  1. Very interesting, Moira. And I know what you mean about Ferrars trying to do something a little different with this novel. That sort of innovation can make a story really absorbing, can't it? Such a fascinating way to go about the whodunit...

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    1. I really enjoyed that slightly different approach Margot - so often authors claim to be looking at the psychology of the crime, but actually I think that's quite rare, and this was an outstanding example.

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  2. What a strange coincidence, Moira - I happen to be lounging about in my own came-knickers while reading this review! A while back, I read somebody's high praise of Elizabeth Ferrars, but I have not been able to find a single book. If I go searching REALLY searching - what should I start with?

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    1. Do you know, I thought you might be! Hope they're luxurious and soft on the skin. I think this is the best of hers, but then it is also quite different from her others, so that's no help is it? Murder in Time and Furnished for Murder are both good. I think she might be published as E.X.Ferrars in the USA if that's any help...

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  3. I am very glad you enjoyed this book, Moira, it is definitely my favorite so far. And this one is a treasure with the use of clothes in the story.

    I have only read 3 of Ferrar's stories, and liked them all, and started with Skeleton in Search of a Cupboard which you sent to me. I now have three more to try, Peggy at Peggy Ann's Post send me two that she had read. Unfortunately I found no new ones at the book sale this year, so I will be looking online for more when I finish the ones I have.

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    1. Exactly Tracy, the clothes were very important, in just the ways I like to see! Definitely my favourite of hers - they do vary a lot.

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  4. Darn you to heck! Why do always find books that sound so appealing to me that I HAVE to add them to my ever expanding list? :-)

    This one sounds especially intriguing. And I'd never heard of cami- knickers until I was watching a fun short series made in the '70s called "Rock Follies" (a "Rock Follies 77") was also made. One of the characters was rather louche and self-consciously out of fashion and called on her love of cami-knickers by one of the other characters. Never quite knew what it was all about.

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    1. Sorry about the booklist! Same happens to me all the time...
      Rock Follies! I watched every epi, I loved it, it seemed the height of glamour and sophistication to me. I don't remember the cami-knickers, but I can guess that they might be frowned on by the other girls - there was an idea that certain kinds of sexiness weren't quite right, that women shouldn't be pandering to men...

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    2. I'm so happy someone remembers that series! No one else I knew had watched it,so it seemed like a secret pleasure to me. I could only find a Region 2 version on dvd, so I had to get an all regions player to watch it. AND I had LPs with the music -- which I loved. Oddly, one of my favorite songs was one that the characters hated -- it wasn't rock enough. It was "Biba Nova." Which is appropriate since I'm forever sorry I wasn't old enough to fly to London and shop at Biba (any of its incarnations).

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    3. I know, no-one else knows it! I have not thought ever to re-watch, I think I might be worried it ddn't live up to memory. I remember plenty of plot moments & some of the music - Roll Your Own, and In My Cans, were they on your LP? I always wanted their band name to be Rock Follies, but they were The Little Ladies weren't they? I was so provincial, I never made it to Biba either, though I had 2 mail order catalogues which I treasured and STILL HAVE, I have used the odd pic from them on the blog.

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  5. Yes, I hated The Little Ladies moniker -- made me cringe. Neither of those songs (at least by those titles) were on the LPs. Cool that you have a couple of Biba catalogues. Jealous!

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    1. I was SINGING them to myself (very badly) after writing the comment - I don't know how I can remember them so well. Oh wouldn't it be great if they did a Rock Follies reunion programme - so many old favourites do...

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  6. Ha! I only sing along (karaoke along?) to the recordings, so they mostly drown me out ... and in my car where no one else can hear me. I'd love a reunion. Are any of them still performing? I love Julia Covington. I had both the London and NYC versions of the "Evita" sountrack, because I liked Covington and Lupone about equally and couldn't choose between the two (kinda like I have two records of "Candide" -- the original Broadway cast album, and the studio version Bernstein conducted).

    OMG, I never realized Charlotte Cornwell was John LeCarré's half sister ... the name being the same never struck me before.

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    1. I almost said that about Charlotte C, but I thought 'nah, she'll already know that.' Julie Covington has the most wonderful voice, I could listen to her singing Don't Cry for Me over and over. Evita is my guilty pleasure...

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    2. Well, I don't know EVERYthing...although I sometimes pretend to. :-)

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  7. Odd you should say that! I'm directing Evita right now! I staged "Don't Cry For Me, Argentina" last night. If you fly over, Moira, I'll give you a free ticket. :)

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    1. Oh how I would enjoy that. Please keep me seat front and centre just in case...

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  8. Not much in common of late - another avoid.

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    1. no, you are let off this one. I thought I was trying with Tana French...

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