[The eponymous Harriet has invited her niece to stay, and says she will need new clothes]
“You’ll need a couple of evening dresses and an evening coat or cloak. You’ll be dining with the Denes and I daresay you’ll get asked to other places. The elder girl has just got engaged to a big pot. A poor fish, but he’s County all right. Two or three silk frocks for tennis, and a couple of woolly suits and a tweed skirt and jumpers for wet days. Then you’ll want shoes for different occasions, stockings, hats—”
“Aunt Harriet—” said Amy desperately.
“Well, what’s biting you?” enquired that lady with a touch of impatience. Evidently she disliked being interrupted.
“I haven’t any money to buy clothes.”
Mrs. Hall nodded and smiled. “I’m going to give you some. I came prepared.” She opened the large red and black striped morocco bag which, with its flashing chromium-plated fittings, seemed so characteristic of her rather blatant personality, and drew out a thick wad of notes. “I’m giving you a hundred pounds. Twelve fives and the rest in one pound notes. You must pay your fare down out of that, but you can spend the rest on pretties. I want you to make a good impression; it’ll make things easier all round if you’re liked.”
commentary: Oh the bliss of the Dean Street Press.
They are bringing back marvellous books from maybe the first two-thirds of the 20th century – classic crime fiction, and (in the Furrowed Middlebrow imprint) those much under-rated ‘women’s novels’ of the era. Their new lists always bring a moment of excitement to book bloggers. You can see a few examples of their books on Clothes in Books here and here.
Moray Dalton is obviously a real find: my friend Curt Evans has written an introduction to the new edition, along with a most satisfying afterword, dealing with a spoiler-esque aspect of the book.
It is an engrossing read: it contains many of the standard features of a crime book of the time, but has depth, and some intriguing characters. And one excellent surprise…
Amy Steer is invited to visit her newly-discovered aunt in West Sussex (mysteriously, the local paper is the Manchester Herald - never really explained): hence the new wardrobe.
On the train she encounters a charming young man, who is plainly horrified when he finds out who her aunt is. After this bad beginning, there is no-one to meet her at the station, and no-one at the cottage when she trudges there. I think we can all guess that something has happened to Harriet Hall. Who was not a popular woman, but seemed to have a curious hold over a local family…
The investigation and POV jump around a bit, but not too off-puttingly. There is a series policeman, Inspector Collier – the good news is that there are a lot more Dalton books to read - and a lot of scenes about the various agonized young people and their romantic leanings. And although there are many expected tropes, there are also more unusual descriptions of relationships, some of them sad and affecting. The writer Dalton most reminded me of was blog favourite Ethel Lina White.
And there are splendid clothes descriptions throughout, exactly what I love. A villager complains “the way the gentry dress and undress, and them bare backs and all—” Bring it on, I say.
There is a young woman in a black and white dress with a red belt and a red hat, there’s some green silk pyjamas, and the tennis mentioned above features a lot, with some emphasis on light white dresses, and a spectator who
came down to the tennis court, slim and exquisite as a Lalique figure in her pale blue muslin.And there’s the question of what to wear for the funeral:
“I got a small black hat that will do to wear with my black and white spotted muslin.”The online currency converter I used to use to compare prices seems to have changed its purpose and now tells you the answers in cows and bales of hay (why? why? why?) but another one suggests that the £100 to spend on clothes might be the equivalent of £6000 in modern prices. She could get a lot of pretty dresses for that…
“Mother, you aren’t going into mourning?”
Mrs. Dene glanced at Lavvy. “My dear, she will be buried in the churchyard here, and I must go to the funeral.”
There is one grave disappointment in the book: there is a lot of mention of a forthcoming village pageant, and I had high hopes of some great scenes and costumes. But sadly it doesn’t happen within the book’s timeframe – a sad loss to me, I love a pageant in a book.
In one of Agatha Christie’s Parker Pyne stories, characters are (apparently) trapped in a cellar with water rising around them, and this is described – by Ariadne Oliver, no less - as such a classic trope as to be a cliché. I have never come across this anywhere else, but was delighted to see it pop up in this book.
And there is this, about some music hall performers:
they ended up with an acrobatic dance, a sort of Apache affair that was definitely sinister. In fact, it sometimes upset the more squeamish members of the audience, and as they didn’t seem able to modify its more objectionable features they were not re-engaged when their contract was at an end.- which does rather make the mind boggle. Regular readers will know that I am very taken with a NYPL collection of variety artistes’ photos: so here is another one, apache dancers McGinn and Woods. (Trying not to shock you too much).
The clothes pictures also from the NYPL, their excellent collection of 1930s fashion illustrations.