[Events in late December 1929 and early January 1930]
As if in revolt at authority, Valentina appeared for dinner in full battle array. Her evening gown was apple-green chiffon in the long lines of high fashion, with tier after tier of ruffles; and over it she wore a matching coat of transparent velvet, which she promptly insisted on John’s taking from her. He did so sullenly. She wore a 16-button white glacé glove on her left hand and carried the other and a French evening bag of green faille silk embroidered with coral and pearl beads. Her iridescent green evening pumps had three-inch ‘needle’ heels, and she towered over Rusty like a queen in a fairy tale.
Rusty was furious. She, too, swept downstairs in full panoply. She had put on an evening ensemble of flat crepe with a jacket, furred in white lynx at the elbows, falling halfway to her knees. The dress was majestic with pennons and had a long irregular hemline full of drama. The only trouble was, by some fiendish coincidence, Rusty’s outfit was also apple green. They sat opposite each other throughout dinner glaring.
observations: I read this book when I was researching a piece for the Guardian on Twelfth Night (
Twelves are used as a theme throughout, in many inventive ways including signs of the Zodiac: but in fact Twelfth Night had no real relevance in the book. So it didn’t make it into the Guardian article but seemed worth a nice Christmas-y entry.
Ellery Queen is one of the guests (for those who don’t know – EQ both writes the books and is in them – long tradition, look it up if it is not clear, or you want to know who used this pseudonym. See also this entry on another Queen book). The action of the book takes place in 1929/1930 – but the framework of the book is Queen looking back on these events in 1957, and finally solving the crime that has puzzled him all this time.
Queen researched the book well, one might almost think too much: we’re constantly told what radio programmes the guests are listening to, and you’d be certain that the author had looked this up in the newspapers of the time.
He does poke fun at himself slightly: Queen is (this is all very meta and complex) a writer of detective stories, but his father is a police inspector, so Queen gets to do some sleuthing in book after book, for reasons which are really not convincing. So in this one, he says to the police chief from the local town:
‘Is it all right with you if I look the dead man over?’Splendid stuff.
‘Wait till I tell my father,’ Ellery said sotto voce as the police chief tramped off. ‘Letting a suspect in a murder investigation be the first to examine the body!’
I always enjoy Queen’s books, and his (their) contribution to the world of crime fiction is unassailable – but in this book, as some others, I wasn’t particularly impressed with the solution. There are too many red herrings, too much irrelevant stuff. Half the plot seemed fairly easy to guess.
The other half – well, if you have read 100 books with a certain family/inheritance element in it – but no spoilers ….
All round, still a nice Christmas-y read. And look at this splendid cover:
The fashion pictures fitted the description to an impressive degree I thought, and they are green – they are one page from the NY Public Library costume collection, I didn’t put them together. I was very dubious about the idea of transparent velvet, but apparently it is ‘very lightweight velvet on a sheer silk or rayon chiffon base’.