Thirteen White Tulips by Frances Crane

published 1953   chapter 1

It was a woman. She walked out of one of those spotty fogs which sometimes sit down tight here and there on Russian Hill. The fog lay thick a block or so from our house. The air being windless, it was hugging like a hood a group of houses a short distance to our left.

The woman was young and as she came closer I saw that she was very pretty. She wore a big, loose dusty pink coat of rough tweed. It was a very fine coat, from a great dressmaker. Her small hat of pink flowers matched the coat. She carried a big honey-coloured bag. I noticed as she passed our gate that her smart walking shoes matched the bag. Her gloves matched too. The colour was a new one called Benedictine….

I realized that it was practically my duty to hurry down-town and buy a new hat.

observations: My blogging friend Sarah – see her excellent Crimepieces blog - told me to read this book. ‘Ideal for your website’ she said.

Ideal? Sarah, quite honestly, that word is inadequate. I have rarely come across a book more designed to provide entries for my blog. It's as if Frances Crane did it on purpose. The book is full of fabulous clothes descriptions, and with serious purpose – Crane is defining character with clothes, and also dropping hints and clues every now and again. The bit above comes on the very first page (and it is made clear later on that she is wearing a pink suit with the matching coat over it, as in the picture), and I could get a week’s worth of entries from this one slim green Penguin. I look forward to reading more of her books…

The narrator, Jean, is investigating a strange death with her husband Patrick – and the business of the tulips (red ones have been exchanged for white ones in the dead man’s house) is truly mysterious. There is a lot about Jean’s dog – at one point held to ransom for $1000 (in modern terms: £11,000 or $16,5000) and she also stresses the importance of accessories: bags that match shoes and gloves, colours that unexpectedly go with a grey flannel suit. San Francisco is brought vividly to life, and a world where everyone drinks martinis endlessly – in their Paris suits – and they flirt and make rather brittle smalltalk. Jean and Pat live in a very sophisticated modern house (we could do with a floorplan of house and garden by the end, I slightly lost track of the couple’s important movements, the terrace, the flowerbed and where exactly the maid’s shower was).

The book reminded me of Hitchcock’s Vertigo – set in SFO a couple of years later – and the fog rolling in is a major feature. And of course Russian Hill is forever associated in some of our minds with Barbary Lane and the Tales of the City books, on the blog here and here.

Thanks again to Sarah, and you can read her take on this book here.

Links on the blog: Gatsby is a man in a pink suit, while Caroline “what a sophisticated-looking girl!” knew how to wear a suit in the same era in The Best of Everything.

This picture is from the gorgeous Clover Vintage Tumblr.


  1. That was quick Moira! Glad you enjoyed the book - aren't the descriptions of the clothes wonderful? I also enjoyed the bits about the Abbott's house with the maid's shower downstairs etc. The whole period vividly comes to life and it does actually move the plot along too.

    Thanks for the link to my review.

  2. Moira - Oh, thank you for the reminder that I need to re-read Frances Crane's work. I love the way you highlight her skill at dropping hints and clues that way as well as her skill at depicting setting. A terrific post. And that pink suit! Matchless!

  3. It wouldn't fit my lifestyle at all to dress like that, Margot, and yet somehow....

    And thanks again Sarah for pointing me in the right direction.


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