LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES
Henry stepped quietly out into the corridor, and went down to the first floor. He knocked on Maria-Pia’s door.
The Baroness, looking pale but enchanting in a fluffy pink and white négligée, was propped up on a plethora of pillows, reading a fashion magazine. At the end of the bed the blankets were turned back, to reveal a small, honey-coloured foot protruding from a large white plaster cast.
Maria-Pia, who had obviously overheard every word, came in at once. She was very pale, and Henry thought she had been crying. Her fragility was enhanced by her huge, loose sweater of pure white wool, worn over sky-blue vorlagers. She smiled at Henry—a desperate little smile that mutely apologised for her husband's behaviour and begged him not to think hardly of her. Henry grinned back reassuringly. She walked gracefully across the room, and sat down.
commentary: This was the first of Patricia Moyes’ Henry & Emmy Tibbett mysteries, and has recently become fairly readily available: when Margot Kinberg turned the spotlight on it a few years ago over at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist, I wasn’t able to find it – but several more recent reviews (Sergio at Tipping my Fedora, Kate at Cross-Examining Crime, Noah Stewart) sent me looking again, and there it was.
Henry and his wife Emmy are on a skiing trip in the Italian Alps: they ARE on holiday, but Henry is also on the lookout for some shady business that might be going on in their small ski resort – the fact that they are very close to the border is relevant here.
Charmingly, Emmy has been skiing before and is much better at it than novice Henry. They are with a small group of people, all in the same hotel. Eventually someone is found dead in the ski-lift, and Henry is forced to reveal his true profession, and help with the investigation.
I didn’t find the plot that surprising or inventive, and I looked with horror at the timetables of who was at the top of the mountain, and the bottom, or on the ski-lift over periods of several hours: I very strongly do NOT want that in a murder mystery. And I solved the crime without reference to it, actually.
LOOK at it. For goodness sake.
But, this was a splendid book because of the atmosphere among the holiday-makers, the details of the skiing, the sense that this was an unusual and quite exotic pastime for the Brits: right then, 1959, Moyes would be confident that the vast majority of her readers had never been skiing. And it does seem to be a most convincing picture, it was very real – and she handled quite a large cast of characters very well. There were plenty of subplots and mystery-making – blackmail, smuggling, murder, affairs, worrying romances, injuries… I have to say, no national stereotypes were being challenged – the Italians are vociferous and romantic, the Germans are stiff and unromantic. The Baron is scarey, his wife is scared.
But this was a very fine start to a nice series of books – a couple more are on the blog: click on the Moyes label below to see them.
I happen to be able to tell you what vorlage is, because of my careful reading of the James Bond books – this, and the skiing picture, from an entry on On Her Majesty’s Secret Service:
‘Vorlage’ is a mode of skiing,(‘leaning forward from the ankles usually without lifting the heels from the skis’), and vorlage trousers, apparently, had tapered legs and elastic under the foot.
--the trousers are also sometimes known as vorlagers.
The negligee woman is from the Library of Congress, skier from the NYPL.