LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES
She had got as far as that, when she heard a sound from below. Someone was walking along the passage from the glass door. She looked down over the railing and saw Hester Constantine come into the hall. Just for a moment Stacy did not recognise her.
She was in her nightdress, with bare feet in slippers and her hair loose on her shoulders. She held a gorgeous embroidered shawl about her. The colours of bright birds and flowers threw back the light, a scarlet fringe dripped to the floor. Stacy stared incredulously. The shawl, of course, was Myra’s. But this woman with the loosened hair and the dreaming face, was she really Hester? She was at any rate ten years younger, and twenty years better looking. She had a slow smile, and the air of a woman who is content. Stacy ran back to her room in a hurry and shut the door.
commentary: I have pointed out before that a distinctive shawl, especially one borrowed from someone else, is likely to be a very bad idea. This is what I said:
Here’s a tip, should you ever be visiting the strange and remarkable world of Patricia Wentworth. If someone has a very distinctive piece of clothing or accessory, something brightly-coloured and obvious, on no account borrow it. You will be murdered. It seems a particularly common idea in her books (or perhaps my choices have been coincidental.) The experienced crime fiction reader can see it coming a mile off.But I have been confounded in this case: the shawl is purely metaphorical, suggesting a different life for Hester, and will play no part in the case. Remarkable. But it did remind me of the scene in Margery Sharp’s Eye of Love in which poor Dolores wears a
gay jumper… made from a Spanish shawl; she had made it herself.And is meant to look laughably hideous. I said in my blog entry it was one of the most unusual and romantic scenes in all literature – I made it my first ever Valentine’s Day entry. And the photo above is the same one I used to illustrate the Sharp book – a haunting picture from the National Library of Ireland.
I looked at this book – and the multiple great outfits – in an earlier entry. It wasn’t a bad crime story, but as often with Wentworth the joy came in the details. It’s a relaxed enjoyable book with lines like this about a local businessman and philanthropist, memorialized in the town square :
It has been said that he wears the worst suit of any statue in Britain. He liked an easy fit, and the sculptor had rendered it with heroic realism.And there is a funny scene where the angelic heroine, Stacey, goes on a disastrous date and finds herself in trouble with her friend’s aunt:
She wasn’t quite prepared to find herself cast as the vamp who had lured poor Tony from his bed, but one glance at the angry solicitous lady who opened the door to them was enough to tell her that this was, in fact, her role.There’s one of Wentworth’s fierce old ladies – ugly, fascinating, youth in the chorus, common as muck etc etc – nothing new but still good fun. And another older woman called Dossie: her character is revealed by this comment:
her [name] Dossie should have been spelt with a B.It took me ages to work out what this meant (bossy, for anyone as dim as I am).
The most troubling bit of the book was this about one of the characters:
Some red-haired women tan easily, and freckle too, but there are others upon whom the sun has no effect. Maida was one of them. She could bask the whole summer through upon the beach without acquiring a single freckle or the least shade of brown.Modern readers wince at this, while being unbothered by the various immoralities, murders and thefts that feature elsewhere.
But definitely one of Wentworth’s higher-ranking books.