As it’s the first month of a new year, the Tuesday Night bloggers, a group of crime fiction fans doing a themed entry each week, have chosen ‘firsts’, a nice wide-ranging topic.
As ever, Bev at My Reader’s Block did the splendid logo.
And Kate at Cross-Examining Crime is collecting the links this month.
In Week 1 I looked at the first Dr Fell mystery by John Dickson Carr, Hag’s Nook.
In Week 2 I blogged on the first book by American writer Mary McMullen.
In Week 3 I went back in time to look at a classic of German literature, Kleist’s Marquise of O.
In week 4 I chose to feature the first appearance of Patricia Wentworth’s Miss Silver.
This week I took the opportunity to read the first book in Delano Ames’ Jane and Dagobert mystery series.
She Shall Have Murder by Delano Ames
[Jane has been caught at the murder scene with her boyfriend and fellow-sleuth, Dagobert, who is in disguise.]
I was aware that the tableau presented to our junior partner’s eyes needed a little explanation. Miss Hamish, a picture of respectable legal efficiency in her neat tailored suit, black gloves, and restrained hat, made a reasonably conventional figure in the foreground. What did not fit into the scene so well was the unshaven workman sprawled on the bed beside me, flicking cigarette ash over the rich red velvet counterpane in the vague direction of his muddy boots.
I couldn’t think of any very convincing explanation for this, so I said nothing.
commentary: I’ve read, and blogged on, several of this series, and was glad to have a good excuse to read the first one. My good friend Tracy over at Bitter Tea and Mystery reviewed this one last year, and I am very jealous of her mapback edition showing all the London locations of the book. (Col of the Criminal Library read a different Ames book, and said that was enough.) Apparently, She Shall Have Murder was made into a film in 1950 – it sounds like a real British B-movie, and seems to be impossible to get hold of. I would love to see it.
Because I enjoyed this book hugely – in fact more than subsequent entries in the series. Later works have Jane and Dagobert travelling around and encountering murder in exotic locations – the South of France, the Pyrenees, New Mexico. This one was very firmly grounded in post-War London, and I thought the setting was knowledgeable and well-done. Jane works in a solicitor’s office - it’s not clear what her job is, a junior clerk perhaps. She is definitely superior to the typist, and seems to have quite a lot of responsibility. I said about another of the books:
Jane is supposedly writing a murder story based on the events in the book, and this was rather meta and very annoying.And this was true of this one too, you’d think someone would have told Ames to ditch this idea along the way.
There is a murder, and it looks as though one of the people in the office must be responsible. The characters are well-defined and well-dressed (I particularly liked the precocious and shady office boy in his wideboy outfits) and have endearing faults and imperfections. There’s a nice Freudian interpretation of what people forget… I wondered if there was any significance in the fact that every time Jane asks for something to drink she is given something other than what she asks for.
And talking of drink – recently on the blog we had a most enjoyable discussion of roadhouses. Some of us (you know who you are, Chrissie) admitted to a ridiculous and most unrealistic pang for the idealized glamour, which we know is probably imaginary…
Well there’s one here:
The Cairo Club on the Great West Road is a peculiarly garish roadhouse, frequented by men in sporty cars and girls with Veronica Lake hairdos. They have the noisiest dance-band for its size in the UK, a real slap-up soda fountain, and brilliant neon lighting.-where Jane and Dagobert go for a double-date with a pair of suspects. Splendid stuff, although the soda fountain sounds an unlikely touch. The décor of the club is very satisfyingly described:
Green Egyptian columns with their spangled lotus-leaf capitals picked out in pillar-box red and tiny hexagons of mirror glass, which supported a ceiling of startling blue in which real stars appeared to twinkle.I thought Ames on the whole did a female narrator very well, I was impressed by some of her gendered comments, despite occasional pre-feminist moments, very much of their time.
It was interesting to compare the working life of women with my Tuesday Night Firsts book set in a NY ad agency around the same time, Mary McMullen’s Stranglehold. And I’m very fond of Michael Gilbert’s 1950 Smallbone Deceased, set in a law office and also featuring some good female characters.
Jane’s outfit above (‘Miss Hamish’ is her referring to herself in the third person) probably looked more like the left-hand one, which is from 1951 so a little later, but I liked the right hand picture as truly representing Jane the sleuth – it’s from 1949. Both from Clover Vintage Tumblr.
Jane goes out wearing her ‘Molyneux-type’ evening dress – meaning a cheap knock-off of the designer’s work. So this is a picture of the real thing, from 1947:
Patricia Ferguson’s wonderful Aren’t We Sisters a few years ago (set in the 1930s) featured a Molyneux suit like the one below, along with some discussion of whether it was real or a knock-off…
I realize I haven’t said much about murder, plot or investigation – they were all perfectly fine and unmemorable (I’m sure I’ll be able to read this again in a few years without remembering who did it.) If anything I’m more interested in one unresolved mystery: Jane and Dagobert are not married, and live in separate bed-sitting rooms in the same house. Twice I thought there was a very strong (but not spelled out) implication that they were sleeping together…