LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES
“Helen! Helen, what on earth are you doing down here? And at this time of night …”
Helen Fent started. “Oh, it’s only you, Annabel. You gave me quite a fright.”
“And you gave me quite a fright,” countered the young nurse briskly. “I thought you were nicely tucked up in bed …”
“I was …”
“And then I find you pattering about downstairs in your night-dress. It’s a white one, too.”
Helen gave a shaky little laugh. “I expect I do look a bit like a ghost.”
“In the dark as well.” Annabel was reproachful. “You might have put a light on.”
“Sorry,” she said penitently. “I didn’t think.”
“I was just coming up to bed anyway,” said Annabel. “I would have come in to see if you needed anything for the night. Did you want another hot drink?”
“Yes … no. No”— Helen took a deep breath—“ thank you.”
“Or a sleeping tablet? I’ve got some with me.”
“No, thank you.” Helen shook her head. “It’s not that. I was just making quite sure we were all locked up for the night.”
commentary: A couple of people did this one for the year 1975 over at Rich Westwood’s Crime of the Century meme (last November’s edition), and intrigued me enough to download it.
Over at Past Offences there are two excellent reviews mentioned, and JJ said in the comments ‘for sheer structure Slight Mourning is easily one of the most interestingly written books I’ve read in a long time. Plot-wise it’s very good, too, but the way Aird introduces all the elements in the opening third or so is really quite fabulous.’
And that pretty much nails it.
It has a really clever, satisfying format: from an opening that features bell-ringing (to remind us of Sayers The Nine Tailors), via a man who dies in a car crash but was poisoned first, to a mental reconstruction of a dinner party via social norms and female intuition – this is a story that pleases the reader.
There are the usual touches of Aird humour;
“We’d heard that [the dead man] ate his dinner all right.”
And the story (unnecessary but hilarious) of the alibi that revolves round a soldiers’ reunion where the participants got very drunk and recreated their most successful attack at the host hotel…
“Heard?” chortled Dabb, the pathologist, robustly. “I know for sure, Sloan. I had a look.”
I loved the clever details of the dinner party – Inspector Sloan’s wife gives him information he needs, and imagines the table setting, and the brilliant clue of the imperfect pudding.
There are some great clothes: Helen, above, the grieving widow, at the funeral
had chosen to wear a linen dress in a shade of charcoal grey which went well with her raven hair but which also served to heighten her pallor.And there is discussion of a
longhaired art dealer chap with the fancy tie thing …”While Constable Crosby’s
“Cravat,” said Sloan distastefully, “or jabot. I don’t know which.” Sloan himself only went out without a collar and tie on Sunday mornings when he went into the garden to tend his roses, and since his marriage he’d affected a decent sports shirt for gardening.
conception of “plain-clothes” was a piece of natty gent’s suiting, and Sloan could only call his choice of a tie for a funeral conspicuously unsuccessful.This is inspector Sloan’s annoyingly incompetent sidekick, with remarks like this:
“We’re like a couple of mosquitoes in a nudist colony, aren’t we, sir?” he hissed cheerfully. “Our trouble is that we don’t know where to begin.”It was handy that I knew so certainly that it was 1975, because actually I would otherwise have placed it earlier – this is an old-fashioned village with a lot of class consciousness, and Inspector Sloan wouldn’t dream of having a dinner party himself. Times are changing though.
I don’t think anyone could have guessed the full story of the crime, but that didn’t stop me enjoying this: a classic village mystery with a lot of very funny moments.
Neither of the pictures is of the right date, but Angelina Jolie in the grey dress had the right look, and I wanted to avoid the nightdress pics that suggest too much jeopardy…
There’s more Catherine Aird on the blog – click on the tag below – this has been my favourite so far.