US title: Death Turns the Tables
LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES
[A swimming party is being held at the pool in the Esplanade Hotel at a seaside resort]
Thirteen guests, seven women and six men, sat or lounged or swam or fell in. These ranged from the very young man with the taste for fancy diving to a middle-aged lady, a remote courtesy-aunt of Jane’s, who was supposed to be ‘keeping an eye on’ the house-party and on whom a close eye had to be kept by Jane herself. The girls’ bathing-dresses were of all colours, and all different. Nor were they conspicuous for prudery. Some guest wore beach-robes of heavy towelling; but this was not observable in the case of any girl with a good figure.
Fred, stepping into the clean, close, tangy atmosphere, was dazed by noises. Voices and echoes: from the echo of laughter to the fine, hollow echo of a splash. Voices struck at him…
Then he saw Jane. She saw him at the same time and came towards him. She was wearing a yellow bathing-suit. The effect was inspiring. She had just come out of the water; she also wore a yellow rubber bathing-cap which she took off to shake out her hair, and caught up a beach-robe from a chair.
commentary: On Friday I read Martin Edward’s review of this book over at his blog Do You Write Under Your Own Name? I thought I had it on my shelves, found it, and read it over the course of a couple of hours – it is very short, but it is also deeply compelling, and I would challenge anyone to read the first few chapters and not want to continue.
It’s not a classic locked-room puzzle, but the ins and outs of the murder are challenging. Tony Morell is a dubious character who has got himself engaged to a judge’s daughter. The judge tries to buy him off: then someone is found dead in the judge’s beach-house.
There are motives and revelations and surprises. There’s something near the end of Chapter 6 which stuck in my mind and meant I wasn’t taken in by one of the twists…
The solution is wildly unlikely but very well done – using a happenstance which has also featured in Dorothy L Sayers and Georgette Heyer, and maybe occurs more often in books than in real life…
I am completely torn about this book. As a puzzle and a crime story I thought it was superb, and I enjoyed it hugely. But I had a huge objection to the moral framework of the book.
There’s a shady solicitor (Morell’s lawyer) who is described as having ‘scanty but well-brushed morals’ – and I found that hard to swallow considering the unprincipled and scandalous behaviour of many of the ‘nice’ characters in the book, onstage and offstage. I very much hoped Carr was going to redeem this, lay into their shamelessness at the end, but far from it: the opposite happened. One character keeps saying (apparently with Carr’s approval) ‘no-one could accuse me of hypocrisy or being a stuffed shirt’ when that is exactly what you would say about him. Again, if someone is badly in debt when they have had every opportunity in life, then to me that is not a reason to give sympathy to them, but a sign of a very poor character.
We are meant to condemn one person’s behaviour, but then this person is completely stitched up by the establishment in a way that must have involved perjury, dishonour and theft by the ‘nice people’ and the legal system. But that – apparently – is fine. No wonder this man is unhappy. Lying, cheating and worse are apparently perfectly acceptable among the upper classes.
I suspect some will argue that I am putting too much expectation on the characters and the book, that it is just a light-hearted story, but part of the setup does hinge on the ‘rightness’ and trustworthiness of some people’s views.
The ending - the fate of the murderer - beggars belief: I was left open-mouthed by it. Martin says it is ‘in keeping with the mood of the times’, and I would love to hear more of his views.
John at Pretty Sinister Books reviewed the book under its US title, and surely has his own views on the morals of the book, and will accuse me of naivete…
I have rarely read a book that I so much wanted to give a split verdict to.
And – I did enjoy it, I liked the puzzle and the clues, I liked some of the characters, and the clothes:
Jane… wore blue, with white at the neck and wrists.Yellow swimsuit is from a Jantzen advert of 1943.
‘That dress becomes you, Jane.’
‘It’s the old story. All you’ve got to do is put on blue, and any man thinks you look well.’
Pool Party is from Ladies Home Journal via George Eastman House (on the blog before here).
There are plenty more bathing pictures around the blog – labels below – this entry fitted nicely with summer time, when the sun is actually shining in the UK some of the time.
There was swimming last Sunday in fact, and also this makes two John Dickson Carr entries on the run – The Black Spectacles/ Green Capsule was entertaining us on Friday.