The Squire called out to them all to come in for tea in the pavilion. By arrangement with the Squire, tea was always provided from the Horseshoe [pub] by Mrs Oakes. She poured it out, helped by Anthea, and the men carried cups and plates of food to the chairs and the rugs on the grass outside. Mrs Oakes emerged from the pavilion when all the cups were filled and she had replenished the two enormous teapots. Anthea followed her, remembering how the pavilion had always smelled of mildew, oil-stoves, linseed oil and coconut cake…
The party from the rose garden was coming up the steps… Oliver was wearing dark blue linen trousers and a white silk shirt, and a blue foulard scarf patterned with silver thistledowns was folded carefully into the open collar of his shirt. He looked extremely elegant, and quite out of keeping with the garden at Alcock’s, and very well satisfied with his own appearance.
commentary: A hat-tip to my friend Curtis Evans of The Passing Tramp, who reminded me of this book, predicting, correctly, that it would be right up my street. (I knew I had it, but it took me ages to find it because I had filed it under W rather than G).
So Alibi Innings is a highly enjoyable village detective story: it features at great length ‘the annual cricket match between the Squire’s eleven the village side’ – very similar to the ones in Gladys Mitchell’s The Echoing Strangers, and LP Hartley’s The Go-Between. (A slightly different type of amateur cricket match gives the climax to Dorothy L Sayers’ Murder Must Advertise). My interest in cricket is extremely limited, but the descriptions were very well done, and managed to hold my attention. It was obvious someone was going to be murdered during the game, which does focus the mind, and some people were behaving strangely.
No-one is very sorry that the victim is dead, which makes for a lighter read. The book is full of entertaining conversations and strange interactions: it is like a cross between an Angela Thirkell book and one of Georgette Heyer’s sparkling murder stories. Mrs Ford, the mother of the doctor’s fiancée Molly, is definitely in the Heyer line, in her red tartan dress and big black hat, though no-one will ever equal Mrs Dean in Heyer’s masterwork, Envious Casca. (and it always does to remember, too, Mrs Dillington-Black in Ngaio Marsh’s Singing in the Shrouds.)
After tea Mrs Ford suddenly announced that now was the time for them all to play what she called Sacred Dumb Crambo. Keeping strictly to scenes from the Old Testament, it was suitable for Sundays and occasions of bereavement, and just the thing to stop them all brooding. Nobody liked to object, though some of them did feel that brooding would have been less trouble and possibly more enjoyable.Not that there is much brooding – the murder doesn’t much get in the way of a lot of sherry-drinking and dropping in and excellently-described picnics. The fact that the police don’t want them to leave the country house is seen on the whole as an opportunity for making a long weekend of it.
So it is more of a social comedy than anything. I found out that an unmarried female weekend guest doesn’t tip male servants. I was informed by one character that
‘After all, a chap doesn’t do somebody in at a cricket match, let alone his hostess. I mean that’s simply not on.’Though of course he is wrong there. Splendidly he goes on to say ‘This isn’t Ireland in the bad times, you know.’
To be told
‘There wasn’t a great deal of cricket played in the bad times.’
‘they have some local game, haven’t they?’
‘I never heard, said Aloysius ‘that there was any kind of convention against killing people at a hurley match.’Meanwhile Mrs Ford is busy telling us that too much athletics for young women is ‘actually bad for them, and enlarges the knees.’
As a detective story it is not bad at all, with some nicely-planted clues and a good line in making us suspect a lot of different people in turn. There is more about clothes than I have talked about here, as it has inspired me to write a themed post on one aspect of the outfits in it…
And, I am now going to try to find Worsley-Gough’s other murder story, Lantern Hill.
Painting of Cricket Match by Alfred Walter Bayes, from the Athenaeum.
The group picture is of actors Alfred Lunt & Lynne Fontanne with Noel Coward.