Vintage Reading Challenge – September 2018

Cinderella Goes to the Morgue by Nancy Spain

I knew nothing about this before I bought it in a charity shop so fulfils “Why – out of your comfort zone”

Natasha DuVivien, the Russian ballerina, and her actress friend Miriam Birdseye are Christmas shopping in Newchester-on-the-Tame when they spot the music-hall artist Hampton Court who is putting on that year’s pantomime, Cinderella. They visit the theatre just as Milady’s Powder-Puff is fired and Natasha reluctantly agrees to step into the breach.

During rehearsals Prince Charming falls through a trapdoor and breaks her neck…accident or murder? If the latter then there are plenty of suspects, including the Ugly Sisters – her husband and her lover – and her son, the stage manager.

There is little real detection – information is revealed bit by bit but without the police having to work for it – and in the end any of the almost entirely unsympathetic could have done it. Not a good mystery but it may be of some interest to those with an interest in the theatre as you would learn how to put on a traditional pantomime in the post-war period.

Busman’s Honeymoon by Dorothy L. Sayers

Fulfils “When – during a trip/vacation”

The newlywed Lord and Lady Peter Wimsey arrive late at night at their new home to find it locked up and the previous owner vanished. With the help of a local woman they manage to make do and order seems to have been restored.

Next morning, when the house is full of visitors, a body is found in the coal cellar – the owner had not absconded after all – but any evidence from the crime scene has already been tidied away, much to Bunter’s chagrin.

Harriet agrees that Peter should assist the official investigation, although this does put strain on their relationship when he insists on passing on some personal information concerning one of their new acquaintances to the police, and brings forth this exchange:

“The dead – are dead. We’ve got to be decent to the living.”

“I’m thinking of the living. Till we get at the truth, every soul in this village is suspect. Do you want X broken and hanged, because we wouldn’t speak? Must Y be left under suspicion because the crime was never brought home to anybody else? Are they all to go about in fear, knowing there’s an undiscovered murderer among them?”

“But there’s no proof – no proof!”

“It’s evidence. We can’t pick and choose. Whoever suffers, we must have truth. Nothing else matters a damn.”

“But must it be your hands-?”

The first part links back to Christie’s idea expressed through Mr Quin and Miss Marple that it is more important to identify the perpetrator, not to punish them, but to give freedom to the living. The second part plays into ideas of public duty versus private relationships – would you rather betray your country or your friend? When I was younger it would have been my friend; now I’m not so sure.

Overall this is a fitting end to the series of Wimsey novels (although some short stories were still to come) as we have the comedic (such as the quotations duel between Wimsey and the surprisingly literate Superintendent Kirk or Bunter’s second eruption of temper) interspersed with the reality of death culminating in the moving finale when Peter’s last façade is broken down and he and Harriet are completely one.

One final thing that struck me was when Peter and Harriet turn up at Denver very early in the morning, which rouses not only the Dowager Duchess, but consequently her servants as well. A life lived in such service, always being at someone else’s beck and call, must in the main, have been terrible.