[Lola de Silva is a Mexican dancer, on a country house visit with her fiancé]
The door of Miss de Silva’s room opened, and Concetta appeared. ‘It is permitted that you see the Signora now,’ she said kindly.
There did not seem to be very much reason why Geoffrey should not have seen the Signora at any time during the past half-hour, for she could not have been in the throes of her toilet since she was still in bed when he at last entered the room. She was wearing a very low-cut elaborate nightgown, and her black curls, though brushed till they shone, had not been crimped into any of the styles of coiffure that she affected.
Geoffrey stopped short just inside the room, gazing at her hungrily. ‘God, how lovely you are!’ he said, a trifle thickly, and plunged forward to the bedside, grasping at her.
commentary: Georgette Heyer didn’t challenge the conventions in her detective stories – bad-tempered families gather in country houses and have rows, and someone dies. She is very good at snappy dialogue amongst the participants, and although very snobbish (Heyer is Queen of the snobs in all respects) she does, refreshingly, avoid too much stiff talk of honour and shame and everyone holding back: in her books people are only too anxious to put the blame on each other. They don’t bother with pretending it must have been a random burglar - they’re too busy assigning motives to each other.
Lola the Mexican dancer goes a step further by pointing out repeatedly how very likely it is that she might have committed the murder:
‘Certainly the police must ask themselves if it is not I who have stabbed him.’Lola is, as the heroine Dinah keeps saying, tremendously good value. The news that Geoffrey was unsuitably engaged had prompted the question ‘Barmaid or tobacconist’s assistant?’ - but cabaret dancer was a much better choice. Very soon after the murder Lola is able to appear like this:
She wore a long, trailing robe of some dead-black material, without any ornament at all, and carried a handkerchief with a deep black hem. Where she could have found such a thing at a moment’s notice Dinah could not imagine.Another character manages this:
She was wearing a lavender frock that subtly conveyed the impression of half-mourning.It reads oddly to modern eyes: we have lost the idea that lavender and lilac are mourning colours – this also came up in a recent GB Stern entry on the blog, with the Semi-Bereavement Department and more lavender and lilac.
There’s also a discussion on whether billiards or snooker is the more suitable game in a house of bereavement (answer: billiards).
So yes, there’s a lot about clothes in the book: ‘severely tailored grey flannel’ for Dinah, and also ‘a severe linen coat and skirt, and a shirt-blouse with a tie.’ Lola wears an ‘orange and black and jade suit that (though labelled ‘Sports Wear’ by the genius who designed it) might have been considered by some people to be unsuitable for a drive into the country’
Another character has a pink sequinned evening frock:
All the other women would know that it was the wrong frock to wear at a country dinner party, but she didn’t care what the women thought.And there is a woman who
When she first took up her abode in the neighbourhood she was eyed a little suspiciously. She was so perfectly dressed that naturally people felt that she might not be quite the type of person one wanted to know.Very much like Joanna moving to the country in Agatha Christie’s The Moving Finger, as described in this blogpost.
The vicar’s wife is very badly-dressed:
she looked rather hot and more than a little crumpled in a tussore coat and skirt, and a burnt-straw hat of no particular shape; and she wore in addition to these garments a blue shirt blouse, dark brown shoes and stockings, and a pair of white wash-leather gloves.I enjoyed all these descriptions tremendously, and the murder plot wasn’t bad either. I guessed what one of the clues – the unfinished one - meant, but was slow to realize to whom it referred. Heyer does us the favour of making the victim so unpleasant that it’s hard to feel too bad about it all.
So - a very entertaining GA mystery, very much of its time, and with lots of good jokes: it slid down a treat.
Georgette Heyer turns up on the blog much more for her detective stories than for her better-known Regency romances - from my point of view, the clothes are much better in the 30s. Click on the Heyer label below to see examples of both.
Pictures from Kristine’s photostream and the NYPL. The top pictures shows Maria Montez, always described as ‘an exotic beauty’, though from the Dominican Republic rather than Mexico.