[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.
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:
Incidentally – the cover of this book shows a lovely drinks party:
--- 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!
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.