LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES
Appointment in New Orleans by Tod Claymorepublished 1950
[The narrator – confusingly called Tod Claymore – is in New Orleans and visits a nightclub]
Lilita herself had just started her act. She was a slim, slant-eyed girl wearing a long embroidered cloak. Her features, though beautiful, were almost totally lacking in expression. On her shoulder was perched a large white parrot.
The band went into a Javanese number, and she began a slow shuffling dance. The parrot squawked, rose from her shoulder, fluttered around her and, with some fuss, removed her cloak. It then removed various other garments, while she went on with her shuffle. Finally, while she stood still, in a statuesque attitude, it removed her sarong. That left her wearing a bunch of roses; they may have been artificial roses. It also ended the act.
[Claymore ends up backstage in the women’s dressing-room]
Lilita was seated at a table, smoking, and feeding her famous parrot with peanuts. She glanced up at me and her expression did not change; she said, briefly: ‘Scram.’ Across the room another girl was doing things with make-up in front of a looking-glass. She had a pert, amusing face, and skinny arms and legs.
commentary: I hope some reader is going to be able to tell me if a nightclub act featuring clothes pecked off by birds is a common feature in places I don’t go to.
The neon sign outside this nightclub says this:
and her famous
This is very much a pre-Bond thriller (Casino Royale would be Ian Fleming’s first book, three years later). Tod Claymore is a tough guy, good at fighting, full of bonhomie, and good-looking and liking the good life: but he is no James Bond. He carts his young daughter around with him, for a start, to make winsome comments, though she stays just the right side of twee. It’s all homelier and friendlier than Bond, though also with traces of toughness and noir. There is a nightclub stripper scene in Fleming's Live and Let Die - see blog entry on it here, featuring fabulous pictures of Harlem - and it is very different. (I have just found the passage in my Kindle by searching on the words 'sequin star', which would make somebody a good stripper name.)
The book opens on shipboard, something I strongly approve of in a thriller (see also: Alastair MacLean’s Golden Rendezvous, and John Dickson Carr’s Murder in the Atlantic, two all-time favourites). There is a mysterious death on board, and there are obviously big problems in the family Claymore is coming to visit: a man on the point of death, a woman who claims to be his wife, much consideration of wills and inheritance. I was prepared to be disappointed when the action moved off the ship, but actually the New Orleans setting was a terrific, as was the delightfully over the top mansion they stay in.
The book is part of a series, and there is a continuing character called Poppy, a tough older woman, a retired tournament-winning tennis player, a busybody, who doesn’t stand any nonsense and is always turning up at the right moment (she sounds like Judy Murray, mother of Wimbledon champ Andy). She is outspoken and can be quite rude. She is somewhat a figure of fun, but she is also a serious player (as with her tennis) in the murky goings-on, and very much someone to be relied on. Most unusual in any kind of thriller, I liked her a lot.
It’s a light book, a quick and easy read, perfect for a journey or a holiday – I would certainly read more by him. It’s very much of its time in all kinds of ways, with lots of splendid clothes and nice details.
The pictures are screengrabs from a 1943 film called Lady of Burlesque: a comedy-mystery based on the crime books of Gypsy Rose Lee. It looks excellent doesn’t it?