Published 1945, set in the 1930s
[Sophie Coppock is preparing for a visit to London]
I was able to pack my purple silk with the short sleeves, and I must own that I felt rather excited…
It was finally agreed that we should see Macbeth at – as it always seems to be called – the ‘Old Vic’. It was only some years later that it struck me as rather a curious coincidence that it should have been Macbeth…
I hope that I shall be thought neither skittish nor abandoned when I say that I had been eagerly looking forward to an evening in the West End - to the gay restaurant, to the sight of jewels and furs, to the lights and the glitter, and to the feeling that, just for once, I was mixing with the haut ton. I suppose that there is still a bit of the Old Eve in me for I never see Piccadilly Circus at night without getting that funny feeling which the French call joie de vivre…
[At the theatre there are boxes of chocolates] one with a purple ribbon and one with a green… ‘Why!’ said Hallam, laughing, ‘you might have given Miss Coppock the one with the purple ribbon, to go with her nice dress.’
observations: It is hard to believe that this book was published in 1945: it is very modern in its tone, its style, its humour, and its unreliable narrators. Miss Coppock is a wonderful creation: unmarried, Secretary and Bursar at a girls’ boarding school, hero-worshipping the headmistress, and not seeing what is in front of her face. Poor Coppock:
I had completely given up suggesting holiday plans to my colleagues; however early in the year I did so I invariably found that their arrangements were already made. It was very odd..This is an extremely complex detective story, with several narrators: the explanation at the end of what really happened takes up 60 pages, and requires a family tree, but it is worth every word. The suspicious goings-on start at a girls’ school in Torquay, the action then moves to London, then up to a private hotel in the Borders. There are poisonings, thefts and inheritances. The cast of characters is wide and varied, including one who is writing a book called The Crimes of the Popes, and one who may be The Bundaberg Monster. The whole thing is a joy from start to finish, and I am always astonished the book isn’t better known.
Robert Player was the pseudonym of architectural expert Robert Furneaux Jordan, and he wrote a handful of crime stories – this one is the best, but the others are worth a look too.
The picture, from Wikimedia Commons, is by Hippolyte Petitjean.