Friday, 14 July 2017

Gin and Murder by Josephine Pullein-Thompson


published 1959



Gin and murder



[The police are visiting the witnesses in turn]

Sonia Denton was at home, but not very pleased to be caught with no make-up, untidy hair and wearing an old housecoat.

“I’m not really dressed; I was just doing the housework; one’s chained to the sink nowadays. If you’ll just excuse me a minute - ”

“Don’t you worry, madam,” Browning said quickly. “We’re both married men.” But, nevertheless, Sonia fled. She took twenty minutes to dress…

When she came back it was apparent that Sonia had performed a complete toilette, even to eyebrows and lashes. She looked well dressed in an expensive tweed skirt, a twin-set and high-heeled shoes.

Flecker grinned as he got to his feet. “A morale raiser?” he asked, and when Sonia looked at him blankly, added “Some people always confront adversity with their best clothes; like captains who put on full dress uniform to go down with their ships.”

“I think it’s important to look your best,” Sonia told him. “I hate this slovenly slacks and pullover business that goes on in the country; it’s not feminine. And I don’t see why men should go round looking like tramps eithers. I won’t let my husband keep any awful old clothes, so he can’t wear them – not even for washing the car.”


commentary: Sonia contrasts sharply with Antonia Brockenhurst, whom the police visited earlier:
She was wearing a dirty pair of corduroy slacks and three pullovers, which protruded, in clashing layers, at the cuffs and collar.

Gin and Murder 2

And it can safely be presumed that Sonia exactly means people like Antonia and her partner, Miss Chiswick-Norton (partner in the sense of running a farm/kennels together, though the more modern meaning of the word is strongly implied).

This is rather a splendid village mystery – JP-T may be not quite up to Agatha Christie or Georgette Heyer, but it is tremendous fun. And it gives a very layered look at the society revolving round the local hunt: the Master of Fox Hounds had a good motive to murder a nouveau riche incomer, one who is also a cad with the ladies, but so did almost everyone else. His glass of gin was poisoned in the entirely correct setting of a drinks party: that’s what we like in a murder story. We are introduced to all the characters in turn in the proper old-fashioned way, and get a glimpse of all the tensions simmering… 

I wished JP-T had given us more of what people were wearing at the party – so I chose my own, and have decided on this 1958 frock from Kristine’s photostream, probably for Sonia, above:



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Incidentally – the cover of this book shows a lovely drinks party:

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--- but this is quite wrong, clearly a 1930s party, the fashions not at all late 1950s.

The book is full of interesting (and convincing) attitudes of the time – talking of one woman’s childlessness:
I know that a lot of women don’t want them nowadays; they’ve too many other interests. But Mrs Broughton wasn’t like that. She wasn’t interested in world affairs, or politics, or committees for this and that.
Then there’s a rather startling remark from one character. He is married, but has fallen in love with the daughter of some friends. He says to the love object’s mother, ie his friend:
If she’d been someone else’s daughter I might have set up a separate establishment, but as it was I couldn’t do a bloody thing.
The mother must have been charmed: what chivalry and gallantry.

Another enjoyably snobbish moment came from the very upmarket wife of one of the characters:
If you had any sense you’d drop Mark like a hot brick, not to mention all those boozy Bobs and Steves and your ghastly friends from Sleeches Farm.
I particularly enjoyed this, because to many of us peasants the whole set of village characters would seem frightfully posh, all in it together, but Alicia is making it clear that the others are at best Upper Middle, and can still be much despised by those of higher rank.

Josephine Pullein-Thompson came from a famously horsey family, all of whom apparently wrote books: the pony books for children were omnipresent in my childhood, though I never read them. But look at her! Isn’t she wonderful!

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I am, as ever, immensely grateful to Greyladies Press for reprinting Gin and Murder – they have wonderful books, including many of Noel Streatfeild’s novels for adults. Anyone who likes these kind of books should go and look at their list straightaway.

There've been quite a few entries featuring hunting on the blog - click on the label fox hunting below. 

Twinset is, obviously, a knitting pattern. 

Lady in jumper and jodhs with horse is from the San Diego aviation archives, the Helen Richey collection which I always like to raid – it is much earlier than the date of the book, but seemed to have the right feel.

My good friend Bernadette over at Reactions to Reading wrote a thoughtful and nuanced blogpost on this book (well, all her reviews are like that). Fair's fair, I introduced her to Greyladies, I think, and then had to read this one based on her review.





























26 comments:

  1. Here's Liz Jones's interview with the Pullein-Thompsons: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/you/article-1300614/Its-stable-relationship-Liz-Jones-meets-girlhood-horsey-heroes.html

    Just in case you've never read it!

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    1. Absolutely fascinating, who'd've thought Liz Jones would write something so interesting. I looked up JP-T when writing the post, and was astonished to find that she was still alive till 2014'

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  2. I had no idea the horsey lady wrote whodunnits!!! I'm not sure I have ever read any of her books (Black Beauty is probably as close as I ever got to a horsey book) but I did recognise the name and this does sound intriguing.

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    1. I don't know why I didn't read pony books - I read stage school books and sailing books all the time, despite their having equally little relevance to my life. But I am glad to have read this one, it had something, and I will try to read another of her murders...

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  3. She was the only one of the PT sisters whose horsey books I loved as a child. I think this was because she had more of a sense of humour. I must find some of her whodunnits.

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    1. I am intrigued by the idea that the books by the sisters were different! Of course they were, they were different people, but all these years I have just assumed they were much of a muchness. She certainly had some talent, and I'm sure you would like this one.

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  4. Susanna Tayler14 July 2017 at 17:28

    Nice to see another housecoat mention... And an expensive tweed skirt, rather than "old but good".

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    1. Yes I nobly resisted the housecoat! And you are spot on with the clichés - 'well-cut but shabby' and so on. You are right, it makes a change. I liked the little view into the lady's life.

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  5. I do think that the level of snobbishness raised dramatically in the '50s because characters like Mrs Denton no longer had quite enough money to live up to pre-War standards. In those circumstances the only way to demonstrate their social standing was to painstakingly police the boundaries of their social class and prevent any pretenders from getting in. There's a lovely irony that the '60s is just around the corner. I'll bet that Mrs Denton just hated that.

    One of the intresting things that I've noticed is that the regulars in our local 'budget' supermarket include the very working class and the very posh. Both sides understand the value of money and appreciate quality (and the quality of food in Lidl is frequently excellent). They're not interested in striking a pose. It's the aspiring middle/upper middle class types who want people to know that they are well-off enough to spot that they're able to shop at somewhere like Waitrose (I'm not trying to pick on Waitrose or its regular customers, but I did once know someone who kept a lot of their carrier bags in the boot of the car and always transferred groceries to them before taking the stuf into their house.

    ggary

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    1. The role of Waitrose in British life is something that it would be impossible to explain to outsiders. I remember the people who went to Waitrose for the free coffee, with their loyalty card, but then went next door to Aldi to buy things. I'm sure Alan Bennett would have a lot to say on this.
      And yes, the social upheavals of the post-war years make for great fictional troubles.

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  6. Oh, this sounds terrific, Moira. I do have a real soft spot for the 'village mystery.' I remember reading Bernadette's review, and thinking that I might enjoy this one. It sounds like a solid mix of interesting characters and a good traditional-style mystery.

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    1. Bernadette was right Margot - as she always is! I definitely liked this one, and will be looking out for more. Mind you, it's probably too late for me to start on the YA pony books...

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  7. OOh, a sweater set, nice. And a beautiful turquoise dress, great color.

    The "horse" books over here in the States of my and my sister's childhood were Marguerite Henry's books. Probably the most famous was "Misty of Chincoteague," which also led to a film and a lot more books in the series.

    The illustrations were beautiful.

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    1. Sweater set! I knew it was called something different in the US, and couldn't remember the right term. When I'm searching for pictures I need to be aware of differences like that.
      My daughter's friend introduced her to Misty when we lived in the US - SHE had got it from her own mother who I guess read it as a child.

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  8. The extract sounds very good, maybe I will try this book someday. I cannot believe the police waited 20 minutes to interview Sonia.

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    1. I know. They shouldn't have stood for it! But I think in books people often get times wrong, it's one of my picky things I'm always noticing. They record a whole conversation which would have lasted ten minutes, and then say '2 hours had passed'. Or else they have someone switching on a blender, say, for 'several minutes' which is impossible if you ever try it, you'd blow out the motor.
      (I hope I haven't started you noticing these things now! It becomes very annoying, I wouldn't wish it on anyone else...)

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  9. Time blunders drive me crazy, too.
    I hate it when the detective gets up at 6 a.m., has a three-hour drive ahead of him/herself, stops for breakfast, then drives and arrives at 8 a.m. Or so it goes.

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    1. Yes! I'm glad it's not just me. I've never seen anyone mention it, but it does drive me mad.

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  10. Yes. Is it so hard to calculate miles one can drive per hour and add in meal and gas stop times and then total them up?

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    1. We should offer our services for characters' accounting. A bit like billable hours...

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  11. Moira: That blue frock is lovely. I believe I have seen young women wearing comparable dresses in recent years. I would think you would need to be a young woman to wear such a dress.

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    1. Yes, I think that bubble skirt comes back now and again, and I always love it. But I'm going to say that I think a soigne fashion-conscious well-dressed lady of a certain age (that's supposed to be me in case you don't recognize me!) might get away with it with the right cut and style...

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    2. There was never a doubt in my mind. You would dazzle in such a frock at any age.

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    3. You are such a gentleman Bill, always!

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  12. I think I can safely avoid this one thanks.

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