I’d never met a woman quite like Dolores Delgado; I'd certainly never had a client like her. She had smouldering eyes, high cheek bones and luscious lips that appeared to be permanently on the verge of a kiss. Strong dancer’s legs, slim hips and small plump breasts. Even in the posters sensuality oozed out of her. There were probably more skilful dancers in the world but she was the most flamboyant, the one with the most pizazz.
She danced with a knife in her garter, like the first tango dancers; she danced the story of tango - its beginnings in the bordellos of Buenos Aires, through tango teas in Paris to finally arrive in the ballrooms of high society. In a way it was her own story.
Off the dance floor what Dolores did with flamboyance and pizzazz was go shopping…
She hired me to go with her to nose out places that sold the most fabulous dresses, clothes that were exclusive, the unusual, the glamorous. Dolores could discuss for hours the details of a frill, the right shade of red, the plunge of a neckline.
commentary: This extract is from the opening page of the book, and is excellently like a 1992 version of a traditional PI story, with a few surprises to come. Narrator Claudia Valentine has left her marriage and is working as an investigator: when Dolores dies (not a spoiler, it’s two pages later) she wants to find out what happened. She starts her enquiries by trying to impersonate her - dyes her hair, wears Dolores’s clothes, moves into her room. (Just like the Tana French book The Likeness, and equally a bizarre and unbelievable move, and one you have to take on trust). The investigation is fairly normal in fact, checking out what she did and who she saw and what she knew. There are some obviously corrupt financial goings-on, and an environmental plotline. There is also a twist early on that I won’t reveal - it’s cleverly done.
I was put onto this one by my friend Sergio over at Tipping my Fedora (a while back): his post is well-worth reading, he looks at some slightly different aspects of the book, and also raises an excellent question.
[the book did] make me ponder on the kind of detectives we admire and the ones we actually like and would want to be friends with. I would love to be pals with Archie Goodwin and Tuppence Beresford, but I suspect Philip Marlowe would be a bit of a drag and Miss Marple could prove a slight knitting bore. So how about Claudia Valentine, the protagonist of Delgado?A splendid topic for discussion, and one I am thinking about now…
The book is very much of its time: Claudia has a cutting edge mobile phone, but it’s obviously huge, and a pain to lug round: when she goes to a club ‘it wasn’t that easy dancing with a mobile phone in my pocket’. But the issues involved are very modern, and Claudia’s attitudes on the whole very proper. The Australian background is nicely done, I really liked the setting in Sydney.
There are great descriptions of the nightclubs and dance routines, and of Dolores’s fabulous clothes. And also Claudia’s – she goes to a bar to meet a contact, wearing a dark dress and stockings. The person she is meeting is in an apricot suit.
We each knew who the other was. We were the only people in the bar not wearing shorts.So – the solution to the crime was reasonably obvious, but Claudia had some good adventures along the way, and some tense moments. It was exciting when she was impersonating Dolores to get to safe deposit box - is it true to say that such a scene is always enjoyably heart-stopping in any book or film?
Marele Day is best-known to me for her magnificently uncategorizable 1997 book about nuns, The Lambs of God.
I do like tango-dancing in a book – it has featured on the blog a few times, with a great favourite description coming in Michael Arlen’s The Green Hat. I think the professional dancers in blog favourite The Body in the Library (Agatha Christie, of course) also danced the tango. And it turns up in other Christie books – Parker Pyne and The Mystery of the Blue Train. Christie was always careful to distinguish between the tango and apache dancing – see more here, in an entry on Matthew Sweet’s wonderful Shepperton Babylon.
The b/w photo (from the library of New South Wales, by the great chronicler Sam Hood) is from the 1920s – but how could I not use it once I found it?