LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES
The door next to Miss Matthews’ opened. Stella stood yawning on the threshold in peach silk pyjamas, and with her short hair ruffled up like a halo about her face. ‘What on earth’s all the row about?’ she inquired fretfully.
‘Stella! Your dressing-gown!’ exclaimed her aunt.
‘I’m all right. Oh, do shut up, Rose! What is it?’
Both maids were now sobbing gustily. Beecher said: ‘It’s the Master, miss. He’s dead.’
Miss Matthews gave a shriek, but Stella, staring at Beecher for a moment, said: ‘Rot! I don’t believe it.’
‘It’s true, miss. He’s – he’s cold.’ Somehow that seemed funny. Stella gave an uncertain giggle.
Her aunt said: ‘How you can stand there and laugh – ! I’m sure I don’t understand you modern girls, and what is more I don’t want to. Not that I believe a word of it. I shall go and see for myself. Where are my glasses? Mary! my glasses!’
‘I’ll go,’ said Stella, walking across the hall.
‘Stella, not in your pyjamas!’ screamed Miss Matthews. Stella began to laugh again, trying to stifle the unbecoming sound by biting her lips.
commentary: The etiquette idea that it is inappropriate to look at a corpse in your pyjamas is a splendid one indeed.
Georgette Heyer is better known for her Regency romances, but her detective stories can be very enjoyable too. This is the third of her crime books to feature on the blog: Envious Casca has been my favourite by far, because it is so funny and has the best characters. The others, including this one, you can see are working up to the delights of Casca. Here, she is too concerned with alibis and suspects and who was where, when she should be giving us more of her truly excellent dialogue. But this one is entertaining enough, it has its moments.
I very much liked the character of Mrs Lupton, and this description of her:
[Her] personality made her a formidable and unwelcome visitor. She was a massively built woman of about fifty-five, extremely upright, and reinforced wherever possible with whalebone. She even wore it inserted into the net fronts which invariably encased her throat. Her hats always had wide brims and very high crowns, and her face-powder was faintly tinted with mauve.There is a romance of course, but it is slightly unexpected. And then there is this coded message as the police visit a bachelor-about-town:
‘Ever thought that décor is highly significant, Super? Take that divan.’
‘What about it?’ asked Hannasyde, glancing a little scornfully at the piece in question, which was wide, and low, and covered with pearl-grey velvet.
‘Not sure,’ replied the Sergeant. ‘If it had upwards of a dozen cushions with gold tassels chucked on it careless-like I should have known what to think. But it hasn’t…Would you call the pictures oriental?’
‘Chinese prints,’ replied Hannasyde briefly.
… which I’m guessing is his belief that the young man concerned must be gay. What with the corpse/pyjamas and the cushions/Chinese art, Heyer is full of social detail.
‘I wouldn’t wonder,’ agreed the Sergeant. ‘It all fits in with what I was thinking.’
One surprising thing: Heyer was an unashamed Right-wing snob, a great believer in birth and breeding and the class system. But her treatment of servants in the book is much better than many other Golden Age writers. The book opens with several pages in the voice of one of the maids, which is far from brilliant, but not too patronizing. But as the book goes on, it is the leisured family’s attitude to the servants that is ruthlessly mocked by Heyer. The best bit is where one of the maids has given an interview to the press saying how sad the staff were (‘why have I never been privileged to set eyes on pretty, blue-eyed [maid] Rose Daventry?’ asks cousin Randall after reading it). The dead man’s sister is furious when she reads it:
‘The impertinence of it! Personal loss! What’s more it’s a lie, because every servant we ever had hated Gregory!’--- which is a tad more realistic than all those servants who mourn with the family but are morons in their employers’ eyes.
The solution to the murder is not that startling – though that is partly because it combines elements which we are all familiar with now. But with these Heyer books, it seems the plot is not the point.
The pyjamas come from a lingerie company with the excellent name of Betty Blues Loungerie.