aka Martin Brett
She sat down on the only other chair in the place. She crossed her legs. And all at once I realized that in the streets it was springtime. Her shoes had four-inch heels. Her stockings looked as if they’d been painted on. She was wearing a coat made of expensive lightweight tweed and her hat was small and feathered. Beneath it was the brilliant gold hair. She was luscious. She knew it.
[Another meeting, later] She went over to the sideboard and she was very chic. The dress was pale green. It gave her a complete and spurious air of virginity. So she wanted to wait a while. Fine. I tried to make ordinary conversation.
“Nice frock,” I said. “Distinctive. Same dressmaker as yesterday?”
“Of course.” She put a glass of straw-colored Alsatian wine in my hand and sat down, keeping a distance between us. “I design all my clothes. I told you yesterday about the dress shop.”
commentary: My friend John Norris of Pretty Sinister Books wrote the introduction for the republication of this book, and it includes this:
The reader would do well to pay close attention to Garfin any time he starts talking about clothes. One particular observation he makes early in the book could lead the reader to discover a surprising connection--one of the biggest shocks in the twisty and incredibly violent finale.-which pretty much meant it was obligatory for me to read it, I think you’ll all agree.
John’s recommendations never disappoint. This one was a most unusual book: on one level a very standard PI crime novel, with exciting women, a troubled protagonist who is irresistible to the women, characters appearing and disappearing, and – as John says – a lot of violence.
But there are unusual features: the setting is Canada, there is a subtext about immigrants and refugees during and after the Second World War, and the underlying plot concerns the trafficking of women for prostitution.
The clothes are important, though I did NOT see the clever clue John mentions above. The new client for Mike Garfin, in the excerpt above, tries to say she can’t afford his rates.
“Trudi,” I said, “you’re a smart looking girl. Your coat’s a model and probably cost around three-hundred-and-fifty. Give me two minutes more, I’ll price your hat.”The city is Montreal, and the French spoken there is important, not least in this chilling and memorable scene:
She had someone in there with her. I stood at the door listening and a guy said to her in English, “That’s a very pretty dress you’re wearing today.” He didn’t sound really interested. I waited for her to answer. Another voice said in French: “That’s a very pretty dress you’re wearing today.” …Nothing but silence. I turned the handle slowly and opened the door. The record said in English: “The scarf suits you, too. You should always wear it with that dress.”Garfin is very typical of the private eyes of the age, and very entertaining: ‘A typical three hours in the life of a private detective, and as dull as English love.’
But the book is also about the prostitution racket, and the appalling treatment of women who had come to Canada after undergoing terrible privations in 1940s Europe, and find life is not going to be all right:
“It’s so damned hard for these people during the first weeks. They’ve all come with such high hopes.” She paused, frowned. “I’ll tell you something shocking. The inhabitants of the concentration camps used to call the gas-chambers ‘Canada’ because they led to Heaven. This room, I’m afraid, isn’t Heaven.”Depressingly, for all the late-40s/early-50s trappings of the book, much of the horrible schemes within could be descriptions of sex-trafficking in the UK from Eastern Europe right now.
Douglas Sanderson took it very seriously and was trying to draw attention to the horrors, while offering an entertaining and violent thriller. Some of the other attitudes in the book are very much of their time, as I like to say, but overall it is a good book: memorable and thought-provoking.
The top picture is from McCalls magazine, at George Eastman House. It is, so far as I am concerned, the only illo I ever need for scenes over a 20-year period in which a beautiful young woman comes to a private detective’s office to hire him. I first used it for (obviously) The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler.
The second picture makes a good second choice though. It and the third picture are from Kristine’s photostream.