the book: Duplicate Death by Georgette Heyer
At this moment, two redoubtable ladies at a table in the middle of the room created a diversion by arguing with steadily mounting choler on the correct play of the hand which one of them had just (according to the other) mismanaged. It was a cardinal rule that these devoted friends should be kept apart at any Bridge-party, for each had a voice like the screech of a macaw, and neither had the smallest control over her temper.
It was of course impossible to keep them apart throughout a duplicate-contest, but it had been hoped that since one was North and the other West no cause for dissension would arise. Unfortunately, North saw fit to criticise West’s play, which, considering she and her partner had benefited by it to the tune of five hundred points above the line, was unhandsome of her.
An altercation arose which showed every sign of developing into a brawl; and Mrs Haddington came back into the room to find play at all tables at a standstill. It said much for her tact that she was speedily able to soothe both ruffled ladies; and still more for her admirable command over herself that she
did not betray her annoyance by so much as the flicker of an eyelid.
commentary: There are lots of splendid outfits in the book – here is the foolish young Cynthia:
She came in now, looking tired, but extremely smart in navy-blue, with a tiny hat on her head, and very high heels to her shoes.
And here she is again:
A vision in delicate shades of floating
yellow chiffon, Cynthia ran down the stairs and burst upon the assembled theatre-party,
And she goes into mourning very reluctantly:
She allowed herself to be divested of her frock, and to have her mother’s old Good Black Wool cast over her head, merely saying fretfully: ‘I look hellish in black, and it doesn’t fit me anywhere!’[Always a sign of bad character in an old-school detective story: only very shallow people consider how they will look in black]
But I wanted to use the bridge party first, in memory of my friend and fellow blogger Noah Stewart, who died last year. He was a great fan of Golden Age detective fiction, and also a keen bridge player. The book made me think of him, even though the card party is just a background to the unrelated murder, disappointingly.
Duplicate Death is, tbh, far from Heyer’s greatest achievement: it contains many of her favourite tropes, but they feel a bit tired. Cynthia has her moments:
‘Darling Mummy, you’re too dim! Timothy’s mad cats on Beulah Birtley! I don’t say I couldn’t have had him, if I’d wanted him, because honestly I do think I could cut the Birtley girl out, don’t you? – but I’m practically certain Lance is far more my type!’There is also the ambitious mother, the plucky putupon young woman, and cringe-making passages about gay characters. Heyer was always keen on the idea that you could tell a gay man by his taste in interior design - ‘the sort of décor that puts very funny ideas into one’s head.’ (in Behold Here’s Poison we get this deathless dialogue: ‘Ever thought that décor is highly significant, Super? Take that divan…If it had upwards of a dozen cushions with gold tassels chucked on it careless-like I should have known what to think. But it hasn’t…’)
And Inspector Hemingway doesn’t like the sentence ‘the murdered man was playing bridge’ because it gives him the creeps.
I was interested in the details of the bridge party – I’d always assumed (as in the pictures above) that there would be 2 or 3 tables, but at this posh house, forty four people have come to play bridge, giving 55 suspects when you include the servants. But obviously most of those people can be ruled out: too busy playing their cards. And you’d have to be asleep not to realize early on that the drugs trade is going to feature a lot.
I was glad to find this, about a wedding in the past:
when she got married she had a wedding-dress of cloth of gold, which created a regular sensation, because it was quite an innovation, as they say, at that time.because, as all keen Dorothy L Sayers fans know, Harriet D Vane married Lord Peter Wimsey wearing cloth of gold – a fact much discussed on the blog. I just googled ‘Harriet Vane wedding dress’ and got many a reference to my blog, but also to Noah Stewart himself writing on the subject with great majesty, brilliant research and his own kindly sense of humour. You could get a really clear impression of the man from this post.
Oh how I wish I could have discussed all of this with Noah. He wrote a general blogpost on mysteries featuring bridge, and also a blissful, long and very critical account of this particular book: it is highly spoiler-esque and should only be read after finishing the book. He is VERY scathing about the way the drug trade in the book is run: Very glad to see that, as I was equally disparaging about the drugs gang in the Sayers book Murder Must Advertise – see my ‘Wimsey Exam Paper’ here.
Noah is much missed, and not forgotten.
The Game of Bridge by Albert Guillaume, from The Athenaeum website.
The Game of Bridge - The Salon at the Clos Cêzanne by Édouard Vuillard same source.
Navy dress, 1949, from the Clover Vintage Tumbler.
Yellow dress by Piguet, 1950, Kristine’s photostream.
Wedding dress from the book Murderess Ink.