The Tuesday Night Bloggers - The Great Detectives

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The Tuesday Night Club is back, in a slightly different form.

We are Golden Age Crime fiction fans, who in the past have done some joint blogging, and we are reviving our meme to mark the publication of a book called The 100 greatest Literary Detectives, edited by Eric Sandberg: many different writers – including our own Kate Jackson - are contributing sections on the chosen characters.

So we decided to come up with our own list, and after considerable back and forth (‘I’ll give you X if you let me have Y.’ ‘SOMEONE has to do Z’) and some very dodgy maths, we each have our lists. Theoretically, this might be 10 each, but that seems very unlikely. We will each blog on as many sleuths as we can, and perhaps someone will add them all up at the end – Bev at My Readers Block, who created the excellent logo above, is of the opinion there will be 50-ish...

We are playing fast and loose with time periods (this is by no means solely Golden Age anymore), definitions and numbers, and have in the end made up our own rules.

***You can now find links to all this week's posts on the subject here at the Invisible Event: thank you.



Some of us are planning themed posts, gathering together a few detectives with something in common…


For Week 1 I am boldly going with


MARRIAGEBLE SINGLE WOMEN DETECTIVES


(snappy title), and my ladies of choice are Agatha Christie’s Anne Beddingfeld, Harriet D Vane from Dorothy L Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries, and Miss Lucy Pym from Josephine Tey’s Miss Pym Disposes.


Man in Brown Suit

Anne Beddingfeld

is one of the finest females in the entire Christie oeuvre – she appears just once, in The Man in the Brown Suit, published in 1924. There is no series detective, and she is not a professional investigator, but she is an absolutely splendid independent woman. This is what I said about Anne in a post on Christie Women in Love:

I love this book, love this heroine, and have done since the first time I read it as an impressionable and romantic teenager. Her relationship with the eponymous Man, Harry, was terrific then, and I still like it now. She falls in love with him, and is determined to prove his innocence: she sets off for adventures and is brave and resourceful. And in the end gets what she wants. She is a wonderful heroine – and the book is very clever as well as being hilariously funny.

It has a secret which I can’t mention for spoilers.

Anne takes off on her adventures, looks for clues and villains, and because of helping her father with his studies of early man, she can judge the proportions of a man’s skull. You never know when that might be useful. She’s apparently never scared, and also never silly. She is a lot less annoying than Christie’s other young woman sleuth, Tuppence Beresford: sometimes I think it’s a shame Christie didn’t bring her back, but then I also like to think of her in our final glimpse of her: maybe the Blessed Agatha did the right thing.




Have his carcase

Harriet D Vane


first turns up in Dorothy L Sayers’ Strong Poison (1930), in the dock. She has been accused of the murder of her lover, and escapes conviction by a hairsbreadth. She has a retrial coming, and Lord Peter Wimsey is convinced that a) she is innocent and b) that she is the love of his life, his future wife. So while she languishes in jail (“I will give the footman orders to admit you: you will always find me at home” she says gravely) Lord Peter and his minions rush around solving the mystery. Non-spoiler: she didn’t do it, and is eventually cleared.

So not much detection by her there. But in Have His Carcase she goes off alone on a walking holiday, and naturally discovers a corpse on a rock on a lonely beach. She and Lord Peter end up in a nearby resort, investigating the crime, and she is apparently an equal partner in that.

After a couple of Harriet-free books comes the very divisive Gaudy Night  (1935)– beloved by some Sayers fans, hated by others. At the end of this one, Peter and Harriet get engaged. Busman’s Honeymoon (1937) follows them through the wedding and the honeymoon (guess what? Murdered body when they arrive at the Airbnb honeymoon hotel new country holiday home).

When I wrote about the love affair in an earlier Tuesday Night Club, I said

I see the romance as being an important and intrinsic part of the series of books, and wouldn’t be without it. But, it is still at times excruciating. 

In Strong Poison, Wimsey imagines his potential married life:

‘one wouldn’t be dull – one would wake up and there’d be a whole day for jolly things to happen in – and then one would come home and go to bed – that would be jolly, too - ’
I don’t know about you, but I find that just plain embarrassing. It would make Lord Peter completely hideous, except that it is totally unconvincing as a set of thoughts going through any real head ever, anywhere.

But Harriet herself is a splendid character, an interesting woman with thoughts in her head and strong opinions and views. I think it’s a shame that she gives in to Lord Peter so totally in her final appearances – she seems to think she is inferior to him. I don’t think her legions of fans would agree…

The two pictures above show my idea of Anne Beddingfeld and Harriet Vane – in fact I have by now quite convinced myself that they are actually pictures of the women, they are how I visualize both of them. (Many people think that Harriet goes hiking in trousers, but it is made clear that she wears a skirt.)

Both these pictures are by William Orpen, a great favourite on the blog. His portraits of women, in particular, often inspire me to match them with book heroines of the last century, from Iris Storm to Milly Theale to Julia Lambert.




Miss Pym 1Miss Pym 2

MISS PYM DISPOSES BY JOSEPHINE TEY


So… thinking about this piece I realized with great surprise that I had no picture in mind for my third woman detective, Lucy Pym: no image in my head, no lovely Orpen lady, no black and white photo or amazing fashion illo to match her. Miss Pym Disposes by Josephine Tey is one of my top 10 favourite ever detective stories, but Lucy Pym (another one-off, appearing only in this 1946 book) is an unknown…the entire book is seen through her eyes, but she is still something of an enigma by the end. Unlike Harriet and Anne, her chosen male companion is obviously dull and uninspiring: she learns about extreme love during the course of the book. (I think she is like the narrator of Wuthering Heights, who thinks he knows what love is, but finds out he has no idea about the Cathy and Heathcliffs of the world.)

We know from the book that she wears fashionable hats, and that her slippers are fluffy and impractical. And that’s about it. Although, looking at my various entries on this book, I was tremendously pleased with some of the other images I found: you can see them in these posts, and two of them are above – the young woman on the right is not meant to be Miss Pym, but Theresa, the ‘nut tart’ in flowered silk.

But with all this, Miss Pym is an immensely memorable detective. Mind you, we also know from the book that she is a very bad detective – ‘What did she know about psychology anyhow? As a psychologist she was a first-rate teacher of French.’

One of my frequently-voiced opinions on the book is that it is set in no real time at all, and that the training college is wholly a fantasy. And yet, Miss Tey and Miss Pym create a world that draws us in, and convinces us of the importance of whatever they choose. It’s a small masterpiece, and that is why Miss Pym’s failure still wins her a place as a great detective.

So it seemed important to try to work out what Miss Pym looks like, fill out that empty face. And in amongst the pictures of William Orpen I found this lady, Mrs Charles Carstairs:



Miss Pym 3



And I think she works as Miss Pym.


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All these books authors and series are all over the blog – click on labels below for links.

Next week, all being well, my chosen detectives will be spinster sleuths.

I wrote a chapter about Miss Pym Disposes in a marvellous book edited by Curtis Evans: Murder in the Closet. The book looks at hidden gay themes in pre-Stonewall crime fiction, and I was proud to be one of the contributors. And all of us are even more proud that the book has been shortlisted for an Edgar (the extremely prestigious awards from the Mystery Writers of America).

Comments

  1. I love your choices, Moira! I really do wish that Anne Bedingfield appeared in more of Christie's work. I've always liked Harriet Vane very much, too, and of course, Lucy Pym is a fantastic character. All very much ahead of their time, so to speak, and I like that about them. And yet, the authors never let them feel so anachronistic that they weren't credible.

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    1. Thanks Margot, we are as one mind! it is so nice to remember that there were some great, strong female characters around all those years ago.

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  2. Female detectives are certainly in the lead at the moment this week within the TNB: 6:1.
    The Man in the Brown suit is another one of the million Christies I need to re-read as I can't remember all that much about it, though as you suggest I think Agatha probably did the right thing in not bringing her back, as I think it is in sequels that female characters tended to suffer from stereotyped narrative arcs.
    Also think it would be hilarious to do a book of some kind in which various GAD detectives leave Airbnb reviews. GAD sleuths are avid travellers, staying in all kinds of places and it would be great to imagine how they would cope with doing Airbnb. I like to think though that the ending of Busman's Honeymoon levels the playing field for Vane and Wimsey as it is her who has to support him as he crumbles under the guilt of getting a person hung.
    ... and the less said about Pym the better. Joke! I might not be able to stand her but greatness is not the same as likeability and her extreme fallibility does add to the genre.

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    1. That's interesting about the preponderance of women in the meme isn't it? And I'm going to think about the likelihood of females becoming more stereotyped... it's a good theory.
      And I think we just agree to differ on Miss Pym! (It is probably a good thing that SHE didn't appear in any other books - miscarriages of justice all over the place!)
      Airbnb reviews for detective stories is a great idea, we really should do something with it. 'the atmosphere was charmingly eccentric, but the hostess was distracted and appeared to be preparing the meat with a bloody knife in the middle of the night. The stew was delicious though!'

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  3. For a moment there I thought the detectives were all aged 50-ish... ! I'm fond of Miss Pym - she is very engaging, even though she is not really a good detective, and the picture is very much as I imagine her. I always think of Harriet Vane as looking like Harriet Walter, which is what happens when you see a TV drama before reading the books, but that painting will do very well, and I love the fabulous colours of the top.

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    1. Well that would be a different way of doing the list, that's hilarious! (A good thing we're not claiming 100 in the end - we might run out of detectives...)
      Yes I must admit to a Harriet Walter image too, that memorable TV series, and the painting does resemble her..

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  4. ‘one wouldn’t be dull – one would wake up and there’d be a whole day for jolly things to happen in – and then one would come home and go to bed – that would be jolly, too - ’

    Parts of "Busman's Honeymoon" are even more cringe-inducing.

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    1. Yes, you are absolutely right, I have to skim some of that book. The really dire thing is that you suspect it was wish fulfilment by Sayers, that that was how she would have liked a relationship to be...

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  5. "Jolly" covers a lot of ground in England, I guess!

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    1. I spit out my coffee laughing when I read that Curt...

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    3. I will never be able to hear the word jolly again....

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  6. Hurray for more Tuesday Night Bloggers! I always enjoy your comments and choice of pictures; I think the portrait of Harriet is splendid, there is something about the expression of the face and eyes which seems to fit her personality, especially earlier on. I look forward to the later posts.

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    1. Oh thank you for the kind words! I'm always so glad when someone agrees with me about that picture. And am on my mettle to find good ones for future entries.

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  7. Oops, but it's Anne BeddingFELD.

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    1. Blimey, I've been incorrectly calling her Beddingfield for more than 40 years! it's even more embarrassing because I double checked that double d, and put it right in the piece, without noticing this other mistake. Have now corrected all appearances I hope - thank you!

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  8. Oh yay! Return of the the Tuesday Night Bloggers.

    Yes to all three. Harriet, of course. And Anne B and Lucy P. I've recently reread both of them (and GN, which goes without saying). You're right. The Man in the Brown Suit shows Agatha's wonderful sense of humour. And (spoiler alert) it shows that despite all opinions to the contrary, AC didn't invent the unreliable narrator in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. It was in this earlier book.

    I like the Anne B picture. But no, I don't see Lucy Pym looking like that. More, well, casual.... How about like this....http://thevintagepatternfiles.blogspot.ca/2013/02/1950s-knitting-quick-to-knit-cardigan.html (I love finding characters on vintage knitting patterns)

    Okay, final point... What about Lucy Eylesbarrow? Miss Marple's eyes and ears and legs in The 4:50 from Paddington. Smart and efficient and, yes, marriageable. Too much so, in fact. I wish Agatha had kept her on as a permanent detective. But no, she married her off to one or the other of the men buzzing around her. (I've never found AC to be good at pairing off lovers. Usually she throws away perfectly good young women on undeserving guys.)

    End of babble....

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    1. That is a really excellent picture, I do agree with you (and I also love looking at old knitting patterns, and do use them sometimes on the blog). I think Lucy Pym has two sides to her, and our two different pictures represent those sides! She is schoolteacherish and sharp (a bit Miss Jean Brodie?) but also likes to be pretty and feminine and cherished.

      Lucy Eylesbarrow is the great lost heroine I think - all readers must want her to be featured more. And what could be a better way to introduce a sleuth into a household than the perfect housekeeper? THAT is the Christie continuation someone should be doing, now I come to think of it. I know what you mean about the marriage choices, but I like the way they can be unexpected.

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  9. Very nice choices. I have read some of the Harriet books recently enough, and The Man in the Brown Suit also, to be able to picture them, but it has been a long time since I read Miss Pym Disposes, so I must renew my acquaintance with her.

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    1. Thanks Tracy - they are all intriguing characters, and it was fun to write about them. Would love to hear what you think of Miss Pym on a re-read: it's a divisive book...

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