Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Hold the Oysters! R in the Month (1950), by Nancy Spain

There's an adage, going back in England at least to 1599, that one should only eat oysters in months with an R.  The website livescience explores the ideas behind this old piece of folk wisdom here, but let's just say Nancy Spain gets a lot of mileage out of it in her 1950 detective novel R in the Month, my poisonous choice for this week's Tuesday Night Club post. 

Nancy Spain (1917-1964) was a well-known journalist and broadcaster in England for about fifteen years before her death in a plane crash in 1964.  She also wrote children's books, memoirs and mysteries, the last of which, of course, are what concern us here.

Spain's mystery novels are ten in number and appeared over a decade-long period, from 1945 to 1955.  A couple of these I reviewed, somewhat indifferently, over at Mystery*File five years ago.

Spain's mystery novels were known for their madcap humor and haphazard detection, and the two I reviewed at Mystery*File certainly lived up (or down) to that reputation.

In 1953 Spain actually was turned down for membership in the Detection Club, or "blackballed" as Spain put it, Dorothy L. Sayers evidently speaking for other members when in 1953 she commented in a letter that the Spain novel she was reading was enjoyable, but lacking in clues and detection.

On the air: Nancy Spain

Frankly I had mostly written Spain off as a genuine mystery writer, as opposed to a satirical humorist, until I started reading her seventh detective novel, R in the Month (1950). Dedicated to Margery Allingham, who a couple of years earlier had published one of her best crime novels, the baroquely detailed More Work for the Undertaker, R in the Month is an admirable essay in "novel of manners" mystery.  The social setting, a seaside resort town in southern in England, is well-conveyed, the people sharply-portrayed, the humor strong without going over-the-top, and the mystery plot linear.

I'll have more detail tomorrow on the mystery itself, plus some additional discussion about Nancy Spain's...unusual relationship with Margery Allingham and Margery's husband, Philip Youngman Carter.