Lillie Blythe answered the door almost immediately. She wore a neat blue dress with a wide skirt and white Peter Pan collar and cuffs. The dress was faded and threadbare, although clean and ironed to perfection. She wore stockings, black pumps, and a pearl choker. Her blond hair showed an inch of grey at the roots and was styled like Doris Day’s forty years ago. She could have stepped out of a Frigidaire advertisement in the pages of Life magazine in the 50s, except maybe for the cigarette that dangled out of her mouth and the dowager’s hump that caused her to lean forward slightly. Her skin was remarkably clear and unlined. She had obviously spent most of her life indoors.
Simon was so busy taking in her appearance that he didn’t say anything.
observations: This was the first of a series of murder stories featuring an academic sleuth in the North Carolina town of Raleigh. Professor Simon Shaw is a historian, and is asked to help with the identification of a body dug up in one of the town’s older mansions. He gets involved in the investigation - and with a female lawyer employed by the police – and tries to find out why someone in modern times cares so much about a crime committed many years before. Of course this is not breaking any new ground in cozy mysteries, but Shaw is a good series lead: he has a full backstory, a messy emotional history, and a few entertaining quirks. The book is very readable and has a strong geographical location– the Raleigh setting is done well, and the references back to the world of the 1920s are intriguing: the character above is one of those who remember the dead woman. The historical part comes alive: rich families in their Colonial mansions, bluestockings going to college, servants, unsuitable boyfriends and snobbish gossip. There is also a long and atmospheric description of a visit to a (modern) baseball game, and quite a lot of detail about guns.
Later books in the series didn’t quite live up to the promise of this one, but the author has now started a new series – the Louise books, about a young woman working in Washington DC during the Second World War – which sounds very promising.
The picture is not a fridge advert, but Tupperware, which seems fair enough. This lady from a magazine short story (this entry) might have done too: