LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES
[Jane and her husband Dagobert are staying in the South of France, and investigating a crime. She is going for a swim at the beach]
Just beneath us we had both simultaneously recognized the body of Suzette – on further inspection she was wearing two bits of beige material which could be called a bathing suit, and stretched beside her was Dagobert. They were eating choux a la crème and chocolate eclairs.
We climbed down the concrete steps and joined them. They were talking animatedly in French, but broke off when they saw us…
Joe retired to a cabin to change while I slipped out of my dressing-gown. I felt over-clad in my one-piece navy blue bathing suit from Harvey Nichols. Suzette examined it in wonder, evidently taking it for some kind of fancy dress. After a moment’s stare she put on her large sun-glasses and returned to the more interesting occupation of picking the scarlet varnish off her toe-nails.
commentary: As sleuthing couples go, Jane and Dagobert aren’t bad – there are worse out there. I’ve covered two other Ames books on the blog - Murder Begins at Home (set on a ranch in New Mexico) and Murder Maestro Please – set in the Pyrenees and with some similar tropes to this one.
Our happy pair are staying in a pension in the south of France: one of the residents, Major Arkwright, is murdered, and Dagobert (for no good reason) decides to investigate. I found the beginning of the book very confusing, and wondered if I’d missed a chapter or two out at one point, as there appeared to have been all kinds of people and events that I had no recollection of. I didn’t really get to the bottom of this, because the narrative picked up and I just carried on, enjoying the weird collection of people assembled in the boarding-house.
Jane is supposedly writing a murder story based on the events, and this was rather meta and very annoying. It also seemed an unexpectedly modern touch, although much else was of its time: everyone drank hugely the whole time, there was a lot of consciously-modern discussion of open marriages, and Jane is not long married and hasn’t yet given up her own passport to have herself added to her husband’s. (Hard to believe, but presumably this was what young women did in those days.)
My friend Col over at the Criminal Library looked at this book last year, and gives a much more coherent idea of the plot than I have. I enjoyed the investigations, but there were rather of the Jessica-Fletcher mode: everyone is given a motive, everyone is suspected in turn, and in the end a solution is pulled out of the hat. But it was an enjoyable read, and as Col says, ‘You get a feel for the life of a small hotel owner and the travelling tourist’, and very much a feel for the times.
The pictures are fashion adverts of the era – I love illos of vintage swimwear – see also this entry on Ellery Queen and these pictures of what to wear over your swimsuit. Max Murray’s The King and the Corpse, the book in questions, has some similarities with the Ames – it’s a 1949 murder story set in the South of France…