Dress Down Sunday: Fun in New Orleans


Appointment in New Orleans by Tod Claymore

published 1950

Appointment in New Orleans 2[The narrator – confusingly called Tod Claymore – is in New Orleans and visits a nightclub]

Lilita herself had just started her act. She was a slim, slant-eyed girl wearing a long embroidered cloak. Her features, though beautiful, were almost totally lacking in expression. On her shoulder was perched a large white parrot.

The band went into a Javanese number, and she began a slow shuffling dance. The parrot squawked, rose from her shoulder, fluttered around her and, with some fuss, removed her cloak. It then removed various other garments, while she went on with her shuffle. Finally, while she stood still, in a statuesque attitude, it removed her sarong. That left her wearing a bunch of roses; they may have been artificial roses. It also ended the act.

Appointment in New Orleans 3

[Claymore ends up backstage in the women’s dressing-room]

Lilita was seated at a table, smoking, and feeding her famous parrot with peanuts. She glanced up at me and her expression did not change; she said, briefly: ‘Scram.’ Across the room another girl was doing things with make-up in front of a looking-glass. She had a pert, amusing face, and skinny arms and legs.

commentary: I hope some reader is going to be able to tell me if a nightclub act featuring clothes pecked off by birds is a common feature in places I don’t go to.

The neon sign outside this nightclub says this:

and her famous

- and I thought, ooh that’s classy for burlesque, the parrot has a last name. But Polly is the second woman artiste, the one who will help Tod, and she is also called the Moo-Moo girl, because she sings a saucy song about a cow and a bull.

This is very much a pre-Bond thriller (Casino Royale would be Ian Fleming’s first book, three years later). Tod Claymore is a tough guy, good at fighting, full of bonhomie, and good-looking and liking the good life: but he is no James Bond. He carts his young daughter around with him, for a start, to make winsome comments, though she stays just the right side of twee. It’s all homelier and friendlier than Bond, though also with traces of toughness and noir. There is a nightclub stripper scene in Fleming's Live and Let Die - see blog entry on it here, featuring fabulous pictures of Harlem - and it is very different. (I have just found the passage in my Kindle by searching on the words 'sequin star', which would make somebody a good stripper name.)

The book opens on shipboard, something I strongly approve of in a thriller (see also: Alastair MacLean’s Golden Rendezvous, and John Dickson Carr’s Murder in the Atlantic, two all-time favourites). There is a mysterious death on board, and there are obviously big problems in the family Claymore is coming to visit: a man on the point of death, a woman who claims to be his wife, much consideration of wills and inheritance. I was prepared to be disappointed when the action moved off the ship, but actually the New Orleans setting was a terrific, as was the delightfully over the top mansion they stay in.

The book is part of a series, and there is a continuing character called Poppy, a tough older woman, a retired tournament-winning tennis player, a busybody, who doesn’t stand any nonsense and is always turning up at the right moment (she sounds like Judy Murray, mother of Wimbledon champ Andy). She is outspoken and can be quite rude. She is somewhat a figure of fun, but she is also a serious player (as with her tennis) in the murky goings-on, and very much someone to be relied on. Most unusual in any kind of thriller, I liked her a lot.

It’s a light book, a quick and easy read, perfect for a journey or a holiday – I would certainly read more by him. It’s very much of its time in all kinds of ways, with lots of splendid clothes and nice details.

The pictures are screengrabs from a 1943 film called Lady of Burlesque: a comedy-mystery based on the crime books of Gypsy Rose Lee. It looks excellent doesn’t it?


  1. There's actually an episode of Ellery Queen (the one starring Jim Hutton - lasted only one series, sadly) in which there's a burlesque dancer whose parrot takes her veils off. As soon as I read your post, Moira, I thought of that episode. At any rate, the novel does sound like fun, and I do like the New Orleans setting.

    1. Fantastic Margot, trust you to know that! And New Orleans is always a great setting, isn't it?
      I wonder if you could do a post on the city, or nightclubs, or birds who steal things?

  2. Lady of Burlesque is a fast-paced entertainment starring the inimitable Barbara Stanwyck at the height of her career. The movie came out in 1943. Her next movie would be Double Indemnity.

    1. Great, thanks for the info. I must see if I can find it...

  3. The old private eye show Bourbon Street Beat featured Nita Talbot in a recurring role as N'Awlins stripper (I beg your pardon...adult entertainment performer) "Lusti Weathers."

    My only trip to NO so far was in September of 2005. We were walking towards Bourbon Street and passed a very large pile of pink feathers lying on the sidewalk.

    We did not investigate.

    1. Giggle giggle. New Orleans never challenges its own stereotypes (Lusti Weathers indeed...)? And all the better for it.

  4. LADY OF BURLESQUE is especially interesting in that it was based on a book written by Gypsy Rose Lee called THE G-STRING MURDERS! There has been some claims that it was written by Craig Rice, although there is equal evidence that she wrote it herself with help from her editor George Davis and her friend Craig Rice. I have a wonderfully lurid Pan paperback edition which has the tagline 'Strangled with their own g-strings!'


    1. Yes I have heard mention of it, though never seen it. Strangled with their own G-strings has to be one of the best taglines ever. James Bond would've loved it.

  5. Probably one I can leave well alone. Given yourself a recent make-over?

    1. Yes I took the leap with blogger, and it has been painful and exhausting, and still isn't finished, but I absolutely love it! I just have to work out how to fix a few more things on it... I suppose you get what you pay for...

  6. Certainly sounds good, and I have not heard of this author at all.

    In theory I dislike books with author and character name the same. But one of my favorite series from years back was by George Bagby (a pseudonym for Aaron Marc Stein) and the narrator was a writer named George Bagby.

    1. I'm just like you: in theory the name thing really annoys me, but if I like the book I'll forgive. I suppose Ellery Queen is the prime example.
      I'm sure I've read something by Aaron Marc Stein in the past...


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