The Bath Mysteries by ER Punshon


published 1936



Bath Mystery 3


[Policeman Bobby Owen is questioning a witness]

But, when asked for a personal description of Mrs. Oliver, the good woman who owned the notebook shook her head. “It’s more than a year ago,” she pointed out. “I only saw her once or twice, and I don’t remember a thing about her except that she had scarf, gloves, handbag, all in Princess Marina green to match, and toning with the silk trimming on her hat, which was one of those dinky close-fitters you wore all to one side that have gone out now – all very smart. 




She had a leopard-skin coat, very smart, too, must have cost a pretty penny, with a white silk blouse underneath, and tweed skirt, and reptile skin shoes, and her hair was in a roll at the back of the neck, not waved like most is. But there, it’s more than a year ago, you can’t expect me to remember much about her, can you? And her and him having been separated so long, you couldn’t expect her to feel it the way you and me would. I’m sure I’m sorry I can’t tell you anything about her, but the gospel truth is, if she walked into this room this minute I should never know who it was.”

A slightly awestruck Bobby had been rapidly noting down the details given.

 
Bath Mystery
leopard…..


commentary: Yet again I have lost track of who pointed this book out to me (Lucy? Vicki? Chrissie?) - I am mortified. Please tell me and get the credit.

--ADDED LATER: It was, of course, Vicki/Skiourophile, see below in the comments. Thank you Vicki.

The book not only introduced me to Princess Marina green, but gave a rare sighting of that favourite CiB joke – the witness who cannot describe another woman at all, except for giving every detail of her clothes. Exactly the same thing happens in this extract from Ethel Lina White’s The Lady Vanishes, published in the same year.

As a crime story, The Bath Mysteries is very hard to classify. I was disappointed initially  that it wasn’t about the place Bath: it’s about people who die in the bath. There is some kind of insurance fraud or scam going on, and series sleuth Bobby Owens finds some of his family are involved – he is a toff policeman of the kind beloved right up to the current works of Elizabeth George.

There is an excellent introduction to the book by my friend Curtis Evans, and he points out that there's a somewhat unexpected level of interest in the non-toffs who turn up in the investigation. Punshon writes with great sympathy and non-judgemental attention about the lost members of society on the streets of London. He writes openly about a prostitute and her ‘bully’ (pimp) and you get glimpses of some very sad stories indeed. The young woman says:
I thought birth control made everything just the same for girls and men, too. They all said it did. It doesn’t – nothing ever makes it the same for a girl and for a man; and after a time nothing seems to matter any more; and you have to live, or you think you have, and you don’t care much – only, one day you are with the others, standing in the street, for sale.
I don’t know that I would expect to find that kind of empathy and sadness from most male writers (or female come to that) of the 1930s, with the possible exception of W Somerset Maugham. (This is of course regardless of whether you feel men and women have different attitudes to sex – I think it’s clear he is not saying women OUGHT to feel differently from men.)

Bobby and his investigations are somewhat routine, even dull, and then there will be a pages of brilliance as the book looks at someone else’s story. I have never read a book quite like it. And nobody who does read it could be unaffected by the touch of redemption offered at the end to two unlikely people.

Marina green is a forgotten colour now and hard to track down (strangely, there is Princess Margaret silk in The Lady Vanishes, above). Princess Marina married the Duke of Kent in 1934: she was noted for, in the words of one biographer, bringing ‘to the House of Windsor ‘a style and chic that the family was sadly lacking’ - see also this entry on the Duchess of Windsor for more consideration of Royal style in the 1930s. 

So the new Duchess of Kent had a favourite colour, and suddenly it was all the rage. It is generally described as a deep-blue-green, though one outlier report says it was more like ice-blue or duck-egg blue. The second picture down might be the right kind of look, but the shade may be too green, not blue enough?


Bath Mystery 2
…or ocelot?

That leopard coat keeps turning up, with people wondering it it was actually ocelot -  it’s a beacon throughout the story, but serving only to link various events.

I asked an expert for the differences: ocelots are smaller, not much bigger than a house cat, and live in South America. Leopards are much bigger, true big cats, and are found in Asia and Africa. The pattern of their fur is very similar, hard to distinguish, though my informant says ‘ocelots are prettier’ in his opinion.

All the pictures are from Kristina’s photostream.












Comments

  1. Moira, "pages of brilliance" is a nice way of looking at a dull narrative. They come like a breath of fresh air and often serve to redeem a book.

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    1. Yes indeed, and pages of brilliance are better than nothing! But this was an enjoyable book overall.

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  2. How fascinating that one famous person's taste can become all the rage like that, Moira. Princess Marina green - really interesting. And I'm sure there are people who forget what others look like, etc., except for exhaustive detail about their clothes. Perhaps it's a case of selective attention? It is funny, that's true. It sounds a bit uneven (brilliant mixed in with dull), but still, I'm glad you enjoyed it.

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    1. I enjoyed it more than I was expecting - and I loved finding the right clothes photos for this one!

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  3. That was so funny, I'm lucky to remember what someone looked like who I saw yesterday. But as my husband pointed out clothes were very important, people didn't own as many and they noticed more detail.

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    1. That's a good point! And I am no good at recognizing faces, it's not my strong point, so might be better at clothes...

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  4. I keep reading about E. R. Punshon's books, but I will probably wait until one is available at the book sale someday. The images here are great.

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    1. Thanks Tracy, I was happy with them. I'm sure one will turn up at the book sale - he wrote plenty of them.

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  5. It was me -- and you had a Princess Margaret Rose tartan. I hope we don't clash... ;-) I'm enjoying the Bobby Owen series - have read nos. 1-15 in order, and while there is that lesser Golden Age melodrama element, it gets less as the series goes on. He's a slow burn, is Bobby, and the war setting ones are particularly interesting.

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    1. Thank you, and apologies for my brain failure. I did think it was you, but I couldn't find the reference.
      He did write a lot, didn't he? I have a couple more in old p/backs (Bath Mysteries I downloaded on Kindle) and will see how I get on with them, though that means reading them out of order...

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    2. I am keen for the rest to come out on kindle (apparently this year), though I have to say that the proof-reading could be better. Then I think how cheap they are and feel bad for being so picky about something I would likely never have had access to otherwise...

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    3. Yes I know. I was staring at a word wondering whether it was a typo or a word I just hadn't come across - I had to look it up. Later there was a similar incident and I decided that their optical recognition software was rendering one group of letters as another. (Easily searched for for correction purposes, one might think.)

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  6. Princess Marina's wedding jewels! http://www.royal-magazin.de/england/kent/ (As you are no doubt aware, there are folks out there OBSESSED with royals' jewels.) Isn't it frustrating not to have an accurate swatch of Marina's color?

    Also, I swear that I read a recent mystery last year whose heroine, a close but skint royal relation, has to squire Marina around when she comes to London to be married. Anyone recognize this?

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    1. A very nice visiting US friend, asked what she wanted to do in London, said 'well you've probably seen them all a hundred times, but I would love to see some royal jewels.' Well, you know, I really hadn't. At all. So I went with her and glimpsed a new world - the best-informed fellow viewers I have ever come across, all frighteningly well-informed on the subject of royal jewels. So I know you are right.
      Not familiar with the book, but it sounds a hoot. I do think Princess Marina sounds an intriguing figure.

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