The Tuesday Night Club has chosen history as this month’s theme, in any way the blogger likes to interpret it.
Bev at My Reader’s Block has, as ever, produced a great logo for us, and she is also collecting the links this month.
Anyone is welcome to join in, either as a one-off or on a regular basis. Just contact one of us.
In the first week I looked at some books written in the 1950s, and some more modern works set at that time.
The next entry was about Sarah Rayne’s Death Notes.
Then I did a piece about anachronisms in historical novels.
Now I am going back to the 1950s: Elly Griffiths’ new entry in her series about Mephisto and Stephens, just published. The series is set in Brighton and London after the war – by this time we’ve reached 1953.
The Blood Card by Elly Griffiths
Edgar and Emma walked back along the seafront. It was a lovely afternoon, the sea limpid and flat, the sky a clear, pale blue. Two promettes - young women employed to patrol Brighton, exuding glamour and answering tourist questions – were wandering along the promenade, offering to pose for photographs with visitors.
[Later in the book] Emma passed two promettes waiting for the lift up to Marine Parade. They looked as listless as she felt, their elaborate hairstyles drooping slightly and their heavy make-up running in the heat. At least she didn’t have to spend her days parading along the seafront in a tight skirt and four-inch heels.
commentary: I had never heard of the promettes, and was intrigued by them, so was delighted to find the picture above, posted by Paul Townsend on Flickr.
But I could have chosen several other themes for illustration. Max Mephisto is an illusionist still working the live theatre circuit – see my entry on the first book of the series, The Zig Zag Girl, for some ideas on how he looked. There are very important fortune tellers as in my recent Halloween special for the Guardian. And of course 1950s fashions always appeal. And we can squeeze in this rather marvellous theatrical poster to represent the shows Max features in. He has just been invited to appear on TV for the first time…
The timing of the book is crucial: it takes place in the runup to Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation in June 1953. There is a complex plot which suggests that there will be a threat to the celebrations. Max and his policeman friend Edgar Stephens investigate, along with policewoman Emma Holmes.
Griffiths knows the world of which she speaks, and also has done a lot of research, but (unlike so many authors) she does not push her findings in your face. I thought she did a great job of creating the atmosphere of the time, and as ever the writing was clever and funny.
I liked a fleeting visit by the Fantinis, whose Italian comments at the boarding-house were such a joy in Zig Zag Girl (they think no-one else can understand them). This time one of them helpfully
expressed the opinion that the ventriloquist's dummy was possessed by the devil and warned Max to steer clear of him.
And there’s Emma, refusing to be intimidated by a witness who asks of an anonymous note:
‘I thought you were getting it checked out by your experts?’ He put a faint, slightly malicious emphasis on the last word.An enjoyable read, and one that resembled the first of the series rather than the second (Smoke and Mirrors, here). And I will of course be still waiting anxiously for Griffiths’ next Ruth Galloway mystery…
‘We are,’ said Emma, although the experts were only her and Bob, peering at the handwriting and concluding that it was ‘someone artistic’.
‘Well then… we have nothing to fear.’
Emma did not dignify this with an answer.
More books with 1950s history and near-history – the Griffiths setting reminded me of the Jo Walton Small Change trilogy, with its view of the world if the UK had made the wrong kind of peace with Germany.
And in a recent History/Mystery entry we looked at a mis-dated conquest of Everest, and a romantic thriller set very much at Coronation time.
Princess Marie-Louise was at the Coronation, and you can see her outfit here.