LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES
the book: The Case of the Turning Tide by Erle Stanley Gardnerpublished 1941
A moment later, there were the sounds of shuffling in the corridor, then a figure clothed in a blanket was thrust into the room, and as the officer gave him the final push, peeled back the blanket. Gramps Wiggins, for once in his life looking completely embarrassed, stood before them, clad only in a woman’s bathing suit of rubber, a very scanty and decidedly feminine costume consisting of one piece. Over the bathing suit a never-ending procession of pelicans skimmed the surface of breakers or dived into the blue depths of the ocean, while seals regarded the performance with cynical smiles.
Duryea said, “I’ll be damned!”
“Make it double,” Milred observed.
Gramps looked at them with agony in his face. “Somebody stole my clothes,” he said.
“He’d evidently undressed on the beach, put this thing on, and gone in for a swim,” the chief said. “When he came out, his clothes were gone. The officer found him wandering along the beach. In fact, he was quite a center of attraction.”
commentary: What could possibly have attracted me to this book? Hard to imagine isn’t it? On the one hand, Kate at Cross Examining Crime knew how to grab me in her review of Turning Tide:
However I will warn readers of a sensitive disposition that the ending does include the disturbing mental image of an elderly man in a lady’s swimming costume. I’ll say no more…On the other hand - what a CiB failure, unable to find a picture of exactly this. I am defeated. And the most pelican swimsuit I could find is modern. Still, did my best. And as it is a cold windy spring in the UK, some descriptions of Californian beach life and sunshine seemed like a good idea.
I enjoyed the book very much: Gramps Wiggins was an excellent character and it’s a pity that Gardner in his phenomenal output didn’t give him a few more runouts – I believe there’s only one more book after this one.
Frank Duryea is a DA investigating crimes in an ocean-side town in California. Gramps Wiggins is a relative of his wife: he is an amusing, ancient, disreputable sleuth, who turns up at the house to ‘help’ solve a murder. This is a mysterious case involving rich people on boats, louche young women, oilfields and shady business deals. the exact moment that a letter was posted becomes vitally important.
It’s a very complicated story: Gardner was massively productive, but he certainly didn’t do it by telling simple tales. For my tastes, there was too much about tidetables. But then I did like all the business with the typewriters – would any young person know what a platen is?
The plot was less important to me than the picture of life – people on boats, weekend cottages, tiny offices: it was all like a Humphrey Bogart film, and I enjoyed it hugely.
I always find Gardner has a good eye for clothes:
She was in slacks, a silk sport blouse and a chic red jacket with wide lapels.
(1940 picture from Kristine’s photostream)
Nita Moline deftly guided the big cream-colored coupe through the streets of Los Angeles and finally into a parking place, slid across the seat, opened the right-hand door, and thrust out a trim pearl-gray suède shoe. There followed a quick glimpse of stocking. Her suit was gray, a few shades darker than the shoes.
(1944, also from the photostream)
Any of them could be Lauren Bacall in that Bogart film…
Then there is the swimsuit.
She returned with a rubber bathing suit. A peculiar montage of marine scenery had been worked into the rubber—waves curling into green crests, over which pelicans were flying. Here and there a seal thrust its head out of the water. These seals all had the same facial expression—a whisker-twisting smirk—a leer of cynical triumph.
It is important because there’s a question over when exactly it was worn: Gramps is very properly doing a vital experiment.
“If I can make so important a contribution toward apprehending the murderer of two fellow yachtsmen, as to see whether the seals on my bathing suit are really grinning, I’ll feel that the sacrifice certainly hasn’t been in vain.”And – there is a mysterious bit of furniture! A taboret/tabouret – a stool, table or cabinet. “Mr. Right took me down into the lower cabin and fixed up a typewriter on a taboret.” In this entry on another of Gardner’s books, The Knife Slipped, I looked at a memorable exchange between (of all people) Evelyn Waugh and Erle Stanley Gardner on the subject of davenports… (I discussed it also in this recent entry on Susannah Shane’s Lady in Lilac.)
I had a question about the boats in the book, and luckily have a very good friend who could answer it:
Clothes in Books: I’m reading a book where there is a yacht 100 feet long – this is California in the 1940s. And I don’t know – is that indicating large, and rich owner, or is it moderate? I have no idea.
Expert Answer: Now that I can answer – a lovely very large yacht for a very rich family, often dynasties, both British and American – I think of the class called J’s which raced in the original Americas Cup. We had Shamrock and Velsheda among others. Some fantastic photos of them under full sail leaned hard over with all the crew (in white of course!) on the edge of the upside. For us sailors, they are the ultimate in powerful speed machines of their era.
- So thank you Sue B for help and for such a vivid picture of the world of the book. I did try to find the kind of photo she describes, but couldn't with any certainty. If anyone else can I would be delighted to add picture or link to this entry.