published 1939 chapter 8
A few minutes later, at precisely a quarter to nine, Frankie, immaculate in white, came down the stairs. She looked serene and cool, and as usual carried about her that faint air of disdainful effrontery which is the essence of chic. In the depths of her outrageously large white handbag – Lilly Dache, Paris, New York – reposed her letter to Drogo Blanc…
Rita said sweetly, “Good morning, Frankie, dear, you’re looking lovely. There’s nothing like white for summer, is there? And it matches your hair…”
She walked on. Her white dress flickered sunlight and shadow as she passed under the trees, and she looked regal and impervious to doubt or mischance. Imperious and serene, she carried her air of disdainful authority as an immunization against defeat. Her magnificent assurance left no hold for failure or despair. She swung her white bag gently to and fro, and from the supreme confidence of her manner it might already have held the saving £10,000.
Frankie was herself again.
observations: Martin Edwards, as well as being a noted crime writer, is also a knowledgeable fan of crime books in general, and I heard about this one on his blog, Do you write under your own name? Like him, I had never heard of book or author, but his review sent me off to find a second-hand copy - it is long out of print, but could be a candidate for resuscitation, now so many old crime stories can be cheaply put out as ebooks.
It is a very clever book, written round a conceit. Six women are gathered in a house: most have reason to dislike or be jealous of the others. Money and love affairs are causing endless trouble. And we know from the opening pages that there will be ‘an act of violence followed by a confession and a suicide.’ The book is 198 pages long, and only on p198 do you find out who is dead and why. This is a considerable feat by the writer, and less tiresome than it sounds. The women are by no means ciphers, and though at first it is hard to keep track of who they are and what their relationships are (a family tree would have helped) they become real and interesting. In the manner of an episode of Murder She Wrote, every character is given a motive, and there aren’t any killer clues to follow, but still I found the ending surprising and satisfying.
The book is certainly entertaining – there is one very funny thread where a misunderstanding over white rhododendrons means others are constantly dropping hints to Rita about them, and she has no idea why she is being harassed in this way.
About the bag – Lilly Dache, a top designer of the era, has featured before on the blog, and you can see two of her hats in these entries. Millinery was her speciality, and I couldn’t find any pictures of bags. But I was intrigued by this line in the book: someone admires the bag, and Frankie says “It’s got an indecent nickname. I’ll tell it to you sometime.” Sadly she doesn’t tell us, but the mind boggles. It sounds very specific.
The radiant picture is from the Dovima is devine photostream.
Thanks to Martin for the tipoff.