LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES
[A policeman is reminiscing about a past event that he feels may have some relevance to the current case]
‘She was a most respectable woman. A brewer’s wife named Mrs Browning., very well thought of locally. She came into the [hotel] lounge wearing a big fur coat. It was a hot summer’s day.’
‘I expect she wanted to show off the coat,’ said the Chief Constable.
‘She stood in the lounge looking round her… And then…’
The Inspector hesitated. He flushed a little.
‘Then she suddenly took her fur coat off. Just let it slip to the ground. And she said: “I’m Lady Godiva”. And, by God sir, she was except for the cigarette.’
‘Lady who?’ said the Chief Constable irritably. ‘I thought you said her name was Browning.’
‘Lady Godiva sir. The woman in the old story books who rode through Coventry in nothing but her hair.’
‘By Jove,’ said the Chief Constable, with some relish. ‘Do you mean to tell me this Lady Whatsername stood up there in the hotel lounge absolutely stark? And smoking too. What a sight, eh? Good looking, was she?’
commentary: I recently blogged on Appointment in New Orleans, which is a later book in the same series, and then read this one - leading to some very slight spoilering on the protagonist’s private life. New Orleans I described as sub-James Bond, with some action at Mardi Gras and risqué business in a nightclub (do see the blopost…). This one is very much more British: a ramshackle country house in Cornwall, the vicar’s daughter coming to visit, a lady who ‘does’, and goings-on out in the stables. I enjoyed both books very much: this one in particular for its details of post-War life:
‘Do I have to bring a ration book to this jail of yours?’Good to know.
‘No, sir. You will have prison food or, if you desire it, you can have your meals sent in while you are on remand.’
The protagonist is, confusingly, called Tod Claymore, and as in the other book he has a young daughter, and an old friend Poppy: a terrifying older lady who is the best thing in both books. At one point the Chief Constable addresses her as ‘my good woman’:
‘Who says I’m a good woman?’ asked Poppy. ‘I deny it.’To which the Chief Constable says he will not be trifled with in this fashion. Yes it really is that kind of book. Poppy also serves meths to cocktail party guests when she runs out of alcohol, which seems a very dangerous proceeding.
There are some nuanced characters there amid the comedy, and Claymore very much tries to have 3-dimensional women even if he doesn’t entirely succeed. There are two contrasting young women, and some potential husbands, and something of a marriage plot.
The overall crime strand is very complex, and not really worth trying to solve, or even to understand. There is an excellent fake confession, people spotting ‘ghosts’ upstairs (you know, going into bedrooms - as in Elinor Glyn’s Visits of Elizabeth), and escapes through the window and in other strange ways.
The milieu is something like that in Josephine Pullein-Thompson’s Gin and Murder, written ten years later, and a great favourite around here. You feel characters from each book could easily wander into the other without seeming out of place.
The story in the extract is not wholly relevant – the policeman is making the point that ‘people can behave oddly’. However, I couldn’t resist the chance to use again this extraordinary picture, which first got an outing on the blog with the Cathi Unsworth book Without the Moon.
It comes from the NYPL, and is intended as a satirical look at women who like their furs so much they wear them to the beach. Male cartoonists can always find a reason, just as I can.