Around sixteen, and beautiful as hell, with long, braided golden hair. She was wearing a cheap, faded blue cotton dress, with no back; the dress had been washed so many times, it had reached a light delicate blue color ... lovely with her hair. I knew that color of blue, all poor families know it too well. And I could tell that she didn’t live near the beach, either, because her arms and back wore only a soft tan, the kind of a tan you pick up just going outdoors, and not living on the beach.
Half an hour later, Krassy walked from his shop with a new, black suit… At Edna Mae’s Thrifty Shoppers Mart, she finally selected a plain little hat, with a half-veil. It cost $2.65 and she selected it with the idea of adding as many years to her appearance as possible.
comments: I am forever reading great books and berating myself because I can’t remember who recommended them to me. This time I am particularly cross because I can literally remember the passage that was picked out- the one above about the shade of blue. But I CANNOT track down – in my head or online - who pointed this description out to me. If it was you, please tell me. *** ADDED LATER - and now I know. It was Ana Teresa Pereira, who wrote about the book on a crime fiction fans forum on Facebook. Thank you, Ana Teresa, for the recommendation.
This is an acknowledged classic, even though Ballinger is little known now. He was a very successful writer in his day, and this is viewed as his best work. It’s a short book telling the dual story of a young girl’s fight out of poverty in Chicago into a better life, and the researches of a young man who becomes completely obsessed by her, and traces her movements: he searches for her and eventually finds her…
And it is an absolute corker – a dream-like dream of a book. The narrative more or less alternates: first person for Danny April, a debt collector using all his skills to try to find her. His story is set roughly at the date of the book (1950), and he follows Krassy’s story since 1940, when she won a photographic beauty contest in a local newspaper. After each session of research, we hear what happened from her point of view, though in the third person. It is an odd way to tell the story, but very compelling. Krassy has had a rough start in life, and she has no qualms about using those around her for her absolute benefit. She is completely amoral, but somehow the reader can’t hate her.
The book is a fascinating combination of genuine detection and investigation – Danny’s tracking her down is riveting – and a tragic and complete story of obsession and crime. Krassy has no principles, and when Danny finally finds her, and manages to meet her, the story takes an unexpected turn.
It is very difficult to write convincingly of a woman who can seduce every man she meets, and of a man who becomes obsessed by an unknown figure. But Ballinger does a phenomenal job of both. The story lingers on in your mind after it is over.
It is a short sharp delight.
The woman in the black suit and veiled hat is actually 10 years too late for when Krassy bought her suit (it's from 1951) but sometimes the image is right. It is from the Clover Vintage Tumblr
The top picture is The Refugee by William Orpen. Orpen is one of my favourite painters, and I often use his pictures on the blog – see some of them here. So I was very happy to go to a small exhibition of his work recently, at the GF Watts Gallery in Surrey. This picture was there, with the wonderful detail that Orpen originally called it The Spy – this was while he was working as an official War Artist on the Western Front during the First World War. He claimed the picture was of someone who was subsequently executed for spying. This turned out not to be true, and he had to withdraw the title, especially when it turned out the model was his French mistress. I felt Krassy would fit in well with this story.
Girl Dressed up in Blue by Jozsef Rippl-Ronai.
Finding the blue was always going to be difficult (most people are not photographed in their oldest, most faded dress) but I tried to go for the shade anyway.