Death on the Aisle by Frances and Richard Lockridge

Death on the Aisle by Frances and Richard Lockridge

published 1942

 

 


One slim, extravagantly heeled shoe lay on its side on the white rug; its mate stood impertinently on the dressing-table bench. Stockings festooned the deep chair and in the middle of the floor there was a satin girdle, tiny and unexpectedly forlorn. A brassière hung dejectedly over the edge of the bed. And halfway to one of the doors in the right wall of the room, a trail of silk and lace lay on the floor. Pam looked at the negligee, estimated its presumptive cost quickly and shook her head mentally. A couple of hundred dollars, she thought, lay trailing thus casually on the carpet, which could hardly be that clean. Mullins, staring in, said he would be damned. “Somebody’s searched the joint,” he said. “Jeez.” Pam’s laugh was tiny and subdued. “Mr. Mullins!” she said. “She’s just dressed to go out. And left what she didn’t want.”

comment: In recent weeks I’ve been following a number of interesting book-related themes, and they’ve been very popular with readers, and more posts and comments are being generated all the time. [More details at the end of this post]

All these topics have been tremendously popular, and tremendous fun, and I particularly have enjoyed being educated by readers.

But I thought we should have a brief dive back into one of the core duties of this blog: to look at books set in the Golden Age of Detection and wonder what the female characters would have worn.




They came into the reflected light from the stage, and Pam North, trim in a yellow dress which had the look of a uniform about the shoulders, stood up from a seat on the aisle

 

This one was recommended to me by a reader, as it combines two of my favourite settings: Manhattan and the theatre. (and it took me ages to realize this – is that title a pun on Christie’s Death on the Nile? I’d literally been thinking that ‘on’ was an odd preposition to have there… I was a bit slow)

It’s a short sharp book: it opens at 2.20 pm on a Tuesday, the murder has already happened, and the case wraps up before 3am Wednesday morning. In between, an awful lot happens, none of it completely new to those of us who enjoy books like this.

The victim is described like this:

Backer of plays and beguiler of women; physician to the theatrical profession at its most solvent; dabbler in motion-picture enterprises. A man who got around and was a good name in gossip columns; a man who frequently had been sued, with one hope or another, by women, and had always seemed to enjoy it.

…and he has been stabbed (quel surprise) while sitting watching a rehearsal for a play he has an interest in. Most of the people in the theatre could have done it. The police restage the rehearsal so they can check the timings.



Series character William Weigand is investigating for the police – and I admire the word spacing in his response here –

“This ‘thing’ is a polite comedy, we hope, and is called ‘Two in the Bush.’” He stopped and stared at Weigand. “As an outsider,” he said abruptly, “what do you think of that for a title?”

“Very,” Weigand said, “provocative. Thank you, Mr. Kirk.”

But of course the amateur sleuths, Mr and Mrs North, just happen to be watching the rehearsal too, and get all involved. I featured my first book about this pair on the blog quite recently – Death of an Angel, here – and this is what I said then:

Jerry and Pamela are a married couple, and always on the verge of being extremely annoying. Pamela’s shtick is to make vague strange-sounding pronouncements which turn out to be more sensible than they at first appear. I suspect this could get old very quickly, but in small doses is OK.

No reason to change that verdict yet.

A lot is crammed in to the timeframe – an attack, another murder, and an abduction – and there is also some very enjoyable clothes detection. Who hung a dress up, and why? Is leaving a dress lying around different from leaving lingerie? What is the explanation for the piece of orange silk in the dead man’s hand?

My good blogfriend Shay said in the comments on that previous book “Mysteries set in Manhattan and written during the 40s and 50s do have an ineffable charm of their own” – which about sums it up.

I often quote the young man inviting out a young woman in a 1954 NY-set book: ‘I know a cosy place at Madison and 34th where Martinis are really dry and steaks just warm in the middle.’ My reaction in my blogpost was ‘As long as I have breath in my body, a sentence like that will make me long to be in New York.’

Shay also found a blurb for Death of an Angel from blog favourites Emma Lathen:

Like Conan Doyle's London, the Lockridges' New York has a lasting magic. There are taxis waiting at every corner, special little French restaurants, and perfect martinis. Even murder sparkles with big-city sophistication. For everyone who remembers New York in the Forties and for everyone who wishes he did.

Which equally sums it up.

I was intrigued by this line:

She was a successful and widely known actress—”

“Actor,” Tilford corrected. “A great actor. We prefer that in the profession. Some of us.”

-          I thought that was a more recent distinction, and would not have been expecting it in the 1940s.

The motive is – unusual. When one person has fears for another, you expect a certain range of possibilities. This one was quite different.

The b/w picture shows a rehearsal for a play in 1940 from the NYPL, Billy Rose Theatre Collection. John Garfield is second from right, the play was Heavenly Express.

Woman in a negligee is from Ladies Home Journal, and is from later in the 1940s, but seemed to have the right feel.


The recent themed and series posts on the blog:

The lost books of charity shops, the books that were on every shelf. We had toothsome examples (The Story of San Michele and Aylwin) and also a roundup post in which my own list is completely outshone by the incredible number of comments from readers putting forward their own ideas of such authors. Truly, the list there should be preserved as a national treasure.

Authors’ choices of character names – there were two posts, on books set in the recent past and on historical novels & the Tiffany Problem. Again, readers comments added hugely to the sum of our knowledge and opinions.

There was the boxes of chocolates – again v popular with readers, and the post lists a number of other theme posts to pursue if you are interested.

And now we have embarked on Mourning (a subject that is branching off a lot) and the Chalet School.

 

Comments

  1. This does sound fun. I always enjoy a theatrical setting. Chrissie

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    1. Yes, deinitely right up your street. And reminding me of Helen McCloy's NY books.
      Roadhouses in the UK, cocktails in NY - we have a whole other life for ourselves.

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    2. I have only been there once, in the winter, but it WAS magical and I did have a dry martini (or two)

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    3. I have always found it lives up to the interior memory & vision we have of it... never lets you down.

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  2. I love that description of the almost magical Neww York setting, Moira. And the story does sound like fun. I've been wanting to put one of the Lockridges' books in the spotlight for a while, and your post reminded me that I still need to do that.

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    1. 'Magical' a great word for it Margot - and I will look forward to your post!

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  3. I read some of their books a long time ago, and remember being very exasperated by Pam! Maybe I'll try again and see if I can be more patient in my old age.

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    1. I am more patient about that as I get older, and they get a bit of a bye because a woman was one of the writers. But she IS annoying!

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    2. I read that Frances came up with the plots and Richard did the writing. This time around I read a 1940 title. Still didn't care much for Pam but Weigand was ok. I did like Pete the cat, though.


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    3. Oh, interesting. Unfortunately, cats in books never do it for me. In Death of an Angel there is an allergy, which is much more me!

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  4. Oh, much to love here, Moira. The bit about New York in the 40s is choice (or perhaps cherce?) Along with the dry martinis. (In fact, it reminds me of my all-too-few trips to NYC which somehow ALWAYS lived up to the storied expectations....)

    I think "on the aisle" is a real--and desirable--thing. I seem to recall lines from movies, etc, that involve the theatrical equivalent of that place at Madison and 34th: "...and two seats on the aisle for The Seven Year Itch."

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    Replies
    1. Yes - there's obviously a subset of us booklovers for whom these phrases and ideas are a complete trigger. And for me, NY always does live up, and is always just like books and films.
      And thanks for input, now that you mention it that phrase about seats on the aisle is familiar.

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  5. Re underwear on the floor - maybe the thinking is that it's going to be washed anyway so no big deal - leaving an expensive dry-clean-only dress lying around on a not very clean carpet is a different matter!

    Pam and Jerry North ring a bell though I don't think I've read anything by the Lockridges - I shall add them to my list.

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  6. Anon is Sovay, and I think I may be confusing the Norths with Nick and Nora Charles of The Thin Man.

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