As I pointed out in my last piece in the English mystery-writing team of GDH and Margaret Cole
, on The Man from the River
, Douglas Cole probably wrote eighteen of the twenty-eight detective novels credited jointly to them, and Margaret ten. The Man from the River
was primarily by Douglas, so I thought I would look at a Coles novel primarily by Margaret: Death of a Star
Death of a Star
|Who murdered Rita Morning?|
details events that follow the discovery of the head of an English film actress, Rita Morning, left in a fishbag in the back seat of a London taxi. World events have brought actual decapitations into the news in the West, as we all know, and this fact was unpleasantly in my mind when I reread this novel.
As has been observed many times, Golden Age detective novels often treated death as a game and in some of them gruesomely gamboling with body parts could be part of the "fun" (see, for example, Gladys Mitchell
's The Mystery of a Butcher Shop
, where the murder victim is cut into joints in a butcher's shop--hilarious, huh?).
However, in Death of a Star
the decapitation is not treated as a grisly joke by the author but as something genuinely horrific, which of course it is (as an aside I should note that the period known as the Golden Age of detective fiction also seems to have been the Golden Age of the Trunk Murder
, if you will).
|a club I would have|
joined in the 1930s
In fact when rereading Death of a Star
I was struck even more forcibly than before about what an impressive exercise in social realism it is for the period. The author deftly portrays social classes high and low, from London society--aristocrat Everard Blachington, who appeared previously in the Coles' excellent The Blatchington Tangle
, 1926, and Burglars in Bucks
, 1930, pops up again, though as an observer rather than as a sleuth--to London toughs; and she also is painstaking in her depiction of police investigation. Her cops--Supt. Henry Wilson does not appear in this one--are not idealized and, with one exception, a lowly police constable, are not even likable, really (certainly the lower classes do not like them--with some justification, Cole suggests).
There are a few Jewish characters--a lawyer, a film producer and a fishmonger--and the police are allowed some ethnophobic thoughts in their direction, which is probably a fair enough portrayal of a number of police at the time, I imagine. The author is also frank in her portrayal of the casual sexual morals of the film world.
All this I found made highly interesting mystery reading. I enjoyed the puzzle plot as well, but of course can't talk about that in detail here! This is another Coles novel I would love to see reprinted someday.
This one sounds quite good! And I really like the cover.ReplyDelete
A highly dramatic cover, and I like the gold and black, it seems to suit the cinema theme.Delete
I like the cover too, it's certainly striking, but was struck by one small point that differs between then and now. When was the last time you saw a hyphenated word on the cover of a book? Especially a major word such as "Scot - land". I can hear my typography prof groaning.Delete
LOL, I didn't even think that, but true!Delete
This is another Coles novel I would love to see reprinted someday.ReplyDelete
It would be wonderful if someone could devote effort to bringing back not just the Coles' novels (I read a couple yonks ago but remember nothing except that I thought they were pretty okay) but also selective bunches of others from that era, doing for UK detective fiction what Stark House is doing for somewhat later US pulp/hardboiled fiction. There was a time when the printer/publisher Chivers of Bath did a lot of the requisite archaeological reprinting of elderly goodies for the library market, but that seems to have stopped in the 1980s or so. (I don't know if Chivers still exists.)
The British Library has reprinted a couple books by competent third-stringer John Bude and the trio by the even more obscure Mavis Doriel Hay (I reviewed one of her books, unfavorably, here on the blog), but so much more could be done. J. J. Connington, one of the writers I discuss in Masters of the "Humdrum" Mystery has been reprinted by Orion Books, but John Street hasn't. Nor have the Coles, Henry Wade (except for one book, in UK), Anthony Gilbert, Philip Macdonald and many others. A few books by ECR Lorac and ER Punshon have been reprinted by Ramble House, Langtail has done a few by Freeman Crofts.Delete
But, yes, all in all you're right, things are lagging way behind with the Brits.
You make this sound like areally attractive proposition Curt - and then you wallop us with the info that it's a bit hard to find - you fiend! Thanks all the same though ... So, how does one know who wrote which one then? Is it like the Beatles, whre it depends which name comes first on the billing or ...?ReplyDelete
Don't blame me, Sergio, blame the agent for the Coles' literary estate! ;) It's the same problem we are facing with the John Street books, where there is a demand but little supply left anymore. I am very sorry about it and would love to work with the powers-that-be to get these books reprinted, but they'd have to be willing to work with me! Tis the curse of copyright law.Delete
I was the person who discovered who wrote which Coles mystery and wrote about it in CADS last year. That and more is in The Spectrum of English Murder, out next month!