Category Archives: Anthony Berkeley

So Many Pieces Still Unsolved*

UnsolvedAs I post this, today would have been Amelia Earhart’s 119th birthday. Her life was certainly fascinating, and her career has been an inspiration to many people. But as much as that, it’s her disappearance that’s captured the public’s imagination. In 1937, she and her navigator, Fred Noonan, went missing in the area of Howland Island in the Pacific Ocean. There were on a round-the-world flight that was being followed by millions of people when they went off the radar.

There have been many theories about what happened to Earhart and Noonan. Some have held up better than others, but as far as I’m aware, there’s been no indisputable evidence of their fate. And that’s precisely what makes this disappearance so irresistibly interesting to so many people. It’s an unsolved case, and people very often find them fascinating.

There are plenty of other real-life unsolved cases, too. They’re the subject of a lot of speculation and theories. There are crime-fictional cases as well. And they capture people’s interest even when those people have no stake in what really happened. It’s human nature to be curious.

In Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time, for instance, Inspector Alan Grant is laid up with a broken leg. As he’s recuperating, he happens to muse on a portrait of King Richard III. His reflection leads him to the question of whether the king was really the murderer he was made out to be. That possibility gets Grant curious about what really happened to Edward V of England and Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York. Most people have always thought Richard III had them killed. But Grant begins to wonder if there’s another theory. So he looks into the matter.

Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse shows a similar sort of curiosity in The Wench is Dead. In that novel, Morse is laid up with an ulcer. During his recovery, he reads a book about the 1859 discovery of the body of Joanna Franks in one of Oxford’s canals. At the time of her murder, two men were arrested, found guilty, and duly hung. But Morse isn’t sure that they really were guilty. So he can resist looking into the case again. Neither he nor Inspector Grant is officially assigned to the case in question. It’s just human nature and the desire to get answers that drives them.

Agatha Christie’s The Thirteen Problems also shows the human tendency to want questions answered and mysteries solved. The Thirteen Problems is a collection of short stories, loosely tied together by an overarching theme. A group of people meet every Tuesday evening. At each meeting, one person describes a murder case. The others try to solve the murder. And it’s interesting to see how the human wish to impose order and have things make sense plays a role. I agree with you, fans of Anthony Berkeley’s The Poisoned Chocolates Case.

Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Mercy (AKA The Keeper of Lost Causes) introduces Copenhagen homicide detective Carl Mørck. In the novel, he’s recently returned to work after a line-of-duty shooting that left him injured, one colleague murdered and another with permanent paralysis. Never the easiest person in the world to work with, Mørck has become even more difficult since his return. So, for several reasons, he’s given a new role: head of a new department, Department Q, which is dedicated to looking at ‘cases of special interest’ – cold cases. Mørck’s first instinct is to do as little as possible, since he’s very cynical about both the department and his appointment to it. But then one case captures the interest of his assistant, Hafaz al-Assad. Five years earlier, up-and-coming politician Merete Lynggaard when missing during a ferry trip with her brother, Uffe. The theory at the time was that she went overboard and drowned. But her body has never been found. Assad is curious about the case, since some things don’t quite add up. So he persuades his boss to re-open it and look into it more deeply. And that’s when the two discover that Merete Lynggaard might still be alive. If so, she may have very little time left.

And then there’s Paddy Richardson’s Cross Fingers, the second of her novels to feature Wellington TV journalist Rebecca Thorne. The nation is getting ready for the 30th anniversary of the South Africa Springboks’ rugby tour, which was to include matches with the New Zealand All-Blacks. At the time of The Tour, as it’s often called, apartheid was in full force in South Africa, and many people protested the Springboks’ visit. Others simply wanted to see the matches. And, of course, the police were responsible for keeping order and protecting everyone’s safety. The controversial decision to let the visit go ahead led to some real ugliness. Now, Thorne’s bosses want a new angle on the 30th anniversary story. Thorne doesn’t really think there is one at first. And in any case, she’s busy with another story. But then, one small item catches her attention. During the match, two people dressed as lambs went to the games, where they danced, made fun, and entertained the crowds. Then, they stopped attending. Thorne’s curious about what happened to The Lambs. Her curiosity is piqued even more when she learns that one of them was a professional dancer who was killed one night. Now, Thorne can’t resist looking into what really happened.

And that’s the thing about human nature. And it’s part of the reason for which people still want to know what happened to Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan. I hope we learn the real truth.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Powderfinger’s Thrilloilogy.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Anthony Berkeley, Colin Dexter, Josephine Tey, Jussi Adler-Olsen, Paddy Richardson

Look At Me, I’m Falling Off Of a Cliff Now*

CliffsThe thing about crime-fictional murders is that they work best if they’re realistic. I don’t just mean credible in terms of motive (‘though that’s certainly important!). I also mean credible in terms of things such as the weapon that the killer uses. It’s important for credibility that the author choose a weapon and other circumstances that are believable given the killer’s size, gender, age and the like.

Enter the cliff. If you’ve ever taken a walk on a cliff, or driven on a narrow, mountainous road, then you know that cliffs can be very dangerous places. And that’s exactly why they can be useful for the crime writer. Besides, a push off a cliff doesn’t require a great deal of special skill or extra strength. And, pushes off cliffs can serve as useful ‘disguises’ for other kinds of murders. So they offer a lot of possibilities for the crime writer. Little wonder that we see pushes off cliffs in a lot of crime novels.

Agatha Christie uses the cliff motif in more than one of her stories. In the short story The Edge, for instance, we are introduced to Clare Halliwell, a ‘pillar of the community’ in the village of Daymer’s End. She’s been friends with Gerald Lee for a very long time; in fact, Clare thinks their relationship is more than friendship. But then, Gerald shocks her by marrying Vivien Harper. Vivien is not particularly well-liked in the village; still, Clare tries to get on with her at first. It doesn’t work out well, though, and Clare finds herself disliking Vivien more and more. Then, she accidentally finds out that Vivien is having an affair.  Now, she’s faced with a dilemma: should she tell Gerald what she knows about his wife? Vivien begs Clare not to tell, and it’s interesting to see how Clare gradually comes to enjoy having Vivien in her power. The tension mounts between the two women, and it ends in tragedy, and a fall from a cliff. But the real question is: what, exactly, caused the fall? You’re absolutely right, fans of The Boomerang Clue (AKA Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?).

In Anthony Berkeley’s Roger Sheringham and the Vane Mystery, journalist and newspaper correspondent Roger Sheringham gets a new commission. His employer, The Daily Courier, wants him to travel to Ludmouth Bay in Hampshire to report on the investigation into the death of Elise Vane, whose body has been found at the bottom of a cliff. At first, her death looked like an accident, but soon enough, evidence comes to light that suggests she was murdered. Sheringham’s assignment is to investigate that possibility. That’s how he meets Inspector Moresby, who’s investigating the death. Between them, Sheringham and Moresby discover that the victim was a very unpleasant person who’d made her share of enemies. As it turns out, more than one person had a strong motive for killing her.

Elizabeth Daly’s Unexpected Night also involves a cliff. In that novel, rare book expert Henry Gamadge is staying at Ocean House, a resort in Ford’s Beach, Maine. While he’s there, Eleanor Cowdean and her children, Amberly and Alma, come to the resort as well. With them is Amberly’s tutor, Hugh Sanderson. Amberly is set to inherit a large fortune when he turns 21. But there’s a very good chance that he won’t, as he has a very serious heart condition. He’s insisted on coming along, though, and everyone settles in on the night of their arrival, which also happens to be his birthday. The next morning, Amberly is found dead at the bottom of a cliff. The first explanation is that he died of heart failure. And that makes sense, given his poor health. But if that’s what happened, what was he doing at a cliff in the middle of the night? And in whose interest was it that he should die just after inheriting a large amount of money? Gamadge works with police detective Mitchell to find out the truth behind his death.

Anne Zouroudi’s The Messenger of Athens introduces her sleuth, Hermes Diaktoros. He’s a rather enigmatic detective who travels from Athens to the island of Thiminos after Irini Asimakopoulos falls, or jumps, or is pushed, off a cliff. The local police believe this death was an accident, and they don’t want any further investigation into it. But Diaktoros turns up some evidence that calls that into question. As he looks into the matter more deeply, he learns more of the history, both of the victim and of the other people on the island. As it turns out, the island’s culture, and the intersecting relationships among its residents, have everything to do with what really happened to Irini Asimakopoulos.

In T.J. Cooke’s Defending Elton, solicitor Jim Harwood gets a difficult case. The body of Sarena Gunasekera has been found at the bottom of a cliff at Beachy Head near Eastbourne. The police soon settle on a suspect, Elton Spears. He’s a mentally ill young man who actually has a history of inappropriate contact with a young woman. And he was in the area at the time of the murder. So there’s every possibility that he’s responsible for the crime. Harwood has worked with Spears before, and takes his case. Together with barrister Harry Douglas, Harwood prepares to defend his client. In this novel, we know the truth about the victim’s death from the beginning of the story; the question is whether the person responsible will get away with the crime.

Ausma Zehanat Khan’s The Unquiet Dead tells the story of the death of Christopher Drayton, who dies from a fall (or was it a jump? Or a push?) from Scarborough (Ontario) bluffs. Under normal circumstances, this would be a matter for local police, or Ontario Provincial Police. But this isn’t an ordinary case. There is a good chance that Drayton was really Dražen Krstić, a notorious war criminal who was responsible for many deaths during the Bosnian War. If he was, this raises important questions about how a war criminal managed to get permission to live in Canada. What’s more, if he was Krstić, this changes the whole complexion of the case. So it’s given to Inspector Esa Khattak and Sergeant Rachel Getty of the Community Policing Section (CPS) of the Canadian federal government. This group is concerned with investigating bigotry, hate crimes, and other community relations issues, so it’s a good fit for this case. As Khattak and Getty look into the matter, they find that there are several angles to this death, and more than one possible explanation.

See what I mean? Cliffs are not exactly the safest places to be. But they are very handy for crime writers. They can provide a straightforward means to an end for the murderer, and an effective way to ‘hide’ a murder that was committed in another way.  I see you, fans of Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of the Final Problem…

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Offspring’s I Choose.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Anne Zouroudi, Anthony Berkeley, Arthur Conan Doyle, Ausma Zehanat Khan, Elizabeth Daly, T.J. Cooke

I’m Telling You, Beware*

Dangerous GiftsVirgil’s Aeneid includes the famous story of the Trojan Horse, and the way in which the Greeks used subterfuge (and a false ‘gift’) to best their enemies from Troy. In it, there are lines that have been passed down to become the proverb, ‘Beware of Greeks bearing gifts’ – a warning not to trust one’s enemies, even if they ‘bear gifts.’

And it’s interesting to see how often untrustworthy gifts show up in crime fiction. If you think about it, it’s almost a trope: the flowers from a stranger that turn out to be deadly; the mysterious package left on a doorstep, etc. There’s only space for a few examples in this one post. But I’m sure you’ll be able to think of many more than I could, anyway.

Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone begins with the theft of a valuable diamond, called the moonstone, from the Palace of Seringaptam. The diamond is said to be cursed, so that evil will befall anyone who takes it from its place. But Sir John Herncastle doesn’t let that stop him, and actually commits murder to get the jewel. Later, we learn that he’s had a falling out with his sister, Lady Julia Verinder, and is not welcome in the Verinder home. When he dies, he bequeaths the diamond to his niece, Rachel, to be given to her on her eighteenth birthday. His wishes are duly carried out, and it’s not long before all sorts of misfortunes happen to the family, beginning with the disappearance of the moonstone on the night Rachel receives it. Then, there’s a suicide. Other trouble follows. Sergeant Richard Cuff investigations, and slowly puts the pieces of the puzzle together.

In Agatha Christie’s Three Act Tragedy, Hercule Poirot attends a sherry party hosted by famous actor Sir Charles Cartwright. Among the guests is the local vicar, Reverend Stephen Babbington. During the party, Babbington suddenly dies of what turns out to be poison. Not long afterwards, there’s another, similar, murder. This time, the victim is Harley Street specialist Dr. Bartholomew Strange. Poirot investigates the two murders as connected events, since many of the same people were at both occasions. He’s working on those two cases when there’s a third murder. The weapon is a gift box of poisoned chocolates, delivered to Margaret de Rushbridger, a patient at Strange’s sanatorium. Now Poirot has to connect her death to the two others.

Anthony Berkeley’s The Poisoned Chocolates Case tells the story of another dangerous gift. In that novel, we are introduced to the Crimes Circle. Run by journalist and amateur sleuth Roger Sheringham, it’s a discussion club where members try to solve difficult crimes. And one day, DCI Moresby brings the group an interesting one. It seems that well-known chocolatier Mason & Sons has come out with a new variety of chocolates. In order to build interest and boost sales, the company sent complimentary boxes of the new chocolates to well-known, influential people, one of whom is Sir Eustace Pennefeather. He himself doesn’t eat chocolate, so he passed the gift on to a fellow club member, Graham Bendix. Bendix, in turn, shared the candy with his wife Joan. Now, Joan is dead, and her husband badly sickened. Analysis shows that the chocolates were poisoned. So the question before the club is: who is the killer? And that, of course, entails the question: who was the intended victim?

Not all gifts are as attractive and welcome as chocolates and diamonds. In Ellery Queen’s The Origin of Evil, for instance, we are introduced to nineteen-year-old Laurel Hill. Her father, Leander, recently died of a heart attack. Laurel, though, is convinced that this wasn’t a natural death. She believes his heart attack was brought on after he began receiving a series of macabre ‘gifts,’ What’s more, she thinks they may be related to her father’s business, since his partner, Roger Priam, has also been receiving ‘gifts.’ She asks Ellery Queen to investigate; and at first, he’s reluctant. But he is intrigued by the puzzle of what this all may mean. So he looks into the matter. In the end, and after Priam is nearly killed, Queen pieces together what actually happened. It turns out that these ‘gifts’ have everything to do with the men’s pasts.

And then there’s Lilian Jackson Braun’s The Cat Who Said Cheese. In that novel, a bouquet of flowers is delivered to The New Pickax Hotel. They’re a gift for a mysterious guest named Ona Dolman. She doesn’t happen to be in her room when they arrive, and that turns out to be a good thing for her.  A bomb hidden in the flowers detonates, causing severe damage to the hotel and killing a chambermaid. Journalist James ‘Qwill’ Qwilleran takes an interest in the case – an interest that’s piqued when Ona goes missing.  Now Qwilleran works with Pickax Police Chief Andrew Brodie to find out who the murderer is, and what’s happened to his intended victim.

As you can see, crime fiction includes some very clear examples of gifts from dangerous people. I think that should serve as a warning to us all. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I hear a knock at the door; I think I’ve just gotten a package.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong’s Smiling Faces Sometimes.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Anthony Berkeley, Ellery Queen, Lilian Jackson Braun, Wilkie Collins

If You Help Us Solve This Crime*

Armchair DetectionThere is something about, especially, unsolved crimes that gets people’s interest. I’m talking here more of the intellectual challenge of solving a mystery than of anything else, and it seems to come up whenever there’s a difficult case in the news. People talk about it, and all kinds of people try to solve the case. Sometimes their ideas are helpful to the police; sometimes the police find them a nuisance.

It shouldn’t be surprising that we see that interest in crime fiction, too. People can’t help being curious, so it makes sense that they would want to put their hands in, so to speak, when there’s an investigation.

Agatha Christie’s The Thirteen Problems certainly reflects that tendency. This is a collection of short stories, loosely tied together by an overarching context. A group of people meet each Tuesday night. At each meeting, one person tells the story of a crime, and the rest of the group tries to solve the case. It’s an interesting example of ‘armchair detection.’ Of course, Miss Marple is one of the members of this club, so as you can imagine, the cases get solved. I know, I know, fans of The ABC Murders.

There’s a similar kind of, if you will, detection club in Anthony Berkeley’s The Poisoned Chocolates Case. Journalist Roger Sheringham runs the Crimes Circle, a discussion group for those interested in crimes and their solutions. When DCI Moresby is invited to address the club, he presents the members with a difficult case. Famous chocolatiers Mason & Sons have come out with a new variety of chocolates. To help spread the word (and, of course, generate sales), they send a courtesy box of the new chocolates to a variety of influential people. One of them is Sir Eustace Pennefather. Since Pennefather himself doesn’t eat chocolate, he gives the box to an acquaintance, Graham Bendix. Bendix, in turn, gives it to his wife. Joan. Hours after they have some of the chocolate, Joan dies of what turns out to be poison. Her husband, too, is poisoned, but survives. So the question before the club becomes: who poisoned the chocolates and why? And who was the intended victim?

There’s a different take on this sort of group in Georges Simenon’s Maigret and the Yellow Dog. Inspector Jules Maigret is called to the seaside town of Concarneau to investigate the attempted murder of prominent wine dealer Monsieur Mostaguen. It seems that Mostaguen was on his way home from the Admiral Hotel when he stopped to light a cigar. The night was windy, so he stepped into the shelter of a doorway. Someone on the other side of the door shot him while he was trying to light his cigar. Maigret and his assistant Leroy take up temporary residence at the Admiral, where it’s been Mostaguen’s custom to spend a great deal of time with a small group of friends: Dr. Michoux, newspaper editor Jean Servières, and Monsieur le Pommerat. On the very night they meet Maigret, the whole group is sickened by a bottle of wine that someone has poisoned. Now it’s clear that someone is targeting the group; and, of course, it’s in their interest to find out who it is. As you can imagine, the investigation becomes the main topic of discussion for this group.

Jodie Evans Garrow finds herself in the middle of a hotly-debated case in Wendy James’ The Mistake. At the beginning of the novel, Jodie has what most people would call a near-perfect life. She’s got good looks and good health, she’s married to a successful attorney, and she’s the mother of two healthy children. Disaster strikes when word gets out that years ago, she had another child. Not even her husband knows about this birth. Jodie says she gave the baby up for adoption, but there are no formal adoption records. Soon, questions begin to arise. Where is the child? If she’s alive, what’s happened to her? If not, did Jodie have something to do with her death? Both privately and very publicly, people argue about whether Jodie is innocent or a murderer. One night, she’s invited to join a book club discussion group. Delighted at this show of kindness, Jodie attends. To her dismay, though, the group is discussing the famous Lindy Chamberlain case (did Lindy Chamberlain kill her baby, or did she not?), and wants Jodie there more as a specimen than a person. It’s an unsettling example of the negative consequences of people trying to solve cases.

Things are just as unsettling in Helen Fitzgerald’s The Cry. Joanna Lindsay and her partner, Alistair Robertson, travel from her native Scotland to his home in Victoria with their nine-week-old son, Noah. The idea of the move is that Alistair will be in a better position to get custody of his teenaged daughter Chloe, who lives in Victoria with her mother. On the way from the airport in Melbourne to Alistair’s home town, the couple face every parent’s worst nightmare: the loss of baby Noah. A massive search is undertaken, but the baby isn’t found. At first, the Australian media is very sympathetic, and several different people set up ‘Find Baby Noah’ websites and online pages where there’s plenty of discussion and attempts to unravel the mystery. You might even say it’s a case of an international group trying to solve the case. Little by little, though, questions begin to arise about the parents, particularly Joanna. And it isn’t long before suspicion soon falls on her. Among other things, this novel shows how today’s technology has made it possible for people to be in these crime-solving, even if they live on different continents.

There are all kinds of real-life and fictional cases where people try to get involved in solving a crime. There’s even an Ellery Queen short story (The Adventure of the African Traveler) in which  Queen is teaching a university class, and some of his students form a sort of ‘detection group’ to solve a  murder. These are just a few examples. Over to you.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Kinks’ Missing Persons.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Anthony Berkeley, Ellery Queen, Georges Simenon, Helen Fitzgerald, Wendy James

Thursday Night Your Stockings Needed Mending*

StockingsNot very long ago, Moira at Clothes in Books posted an interesting discussion of giving stockings as gifts. And that’s not her first post on stockings in literature. The whole thing has me thinking of how often stockings do figure in books; certainly they do in crime fiction. You might not really think about it, because they’ve been such an ordinary, everyday part of dressing for a lot of people for a long time. But they certainly play a role in crime novels.

For example, Anthony Berkeley’s The Silk Stocking Murders begins with a letter sent to Roger Sheringham at the offices of The Daily Courier, where he is a contributing columnist. The letter is from a rural parson, A.E. Manners, who is concerned about his daughter Janet. Janet had left home to try to ‘seek her fortune’ as the saying goes, and for some time, she’d been writing more or less regularly, mostly from London. But now her letters have stopped, and her father is worried about her. He doesn’t want the police involved, so he asks Sheringham to investigate. Sheringham’s curious about it, and happens to mention the matter to a colleague. His colleague identifies the ‘photo of Janet that Sheringham shows him as that of a chorus girl who recently died. She was strangled with her own silk stockings, and the police theory is that it was suicide. But Sheringham isn’t sure that’s the case, so he looks into the matter more deeply. Then, other, similar murders occur. Now it’s clear that Janet’s death was not suicide, so Sheringham works with Inspector Moresby and with Janet’s older sister Anne to find out the truth.

In Agatha Christie’s A Pocket Full of Rye, wealthy Rex Fortescue is poisoned, and Inspector Neele is assigned to investigate. He begins, as is logical, with the members of Fortescue’s family, and it’s not long before he discovers plenty of motives. To say the least, the family has not been a loving, united one. But if it’s a family member, what’s the meaning of the bunch of grains of rye that were found in Fortescue’s pocket? Neele tries to keep an open mind, but he doesn’t get very far along. Then, the family maid Gladys Martin is killed – strangled with a stocking. Miss Marple is especially upset at this, since she knows Gladys well. In fact, she prepared her for domestic service. So she gets involved in the investigation, and works to find out who the murderer is. The case isn’t solved in time to prevent more death, but in the end, Miss Marple gets to the truth. I know, I know, fans of Cards on the Table and of The ABC Murders.

In P.D. Martin’s Fan Mail, best-selling crime novelist Loretta Black pays a visit to the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit, where Sophie Anderson works. Soon afterwards, Anderson transfers to the Los Angeles FBI office. Then, she learns that Loretta Black has been killed. What’s especially eerie about this murder is that it exactly resembles a series of murders Black wrote about in a novel. Part of the fictional killer’s ‘signature’ was strangling with torn-off stockings, and that’s how Black’s been murdered. Then, another writer is killed; again, the real murder mimics the writer’s fiction. And another writer disappears. Now, Anderson has to work with the LAPD as well as her fellow field agents to find out who the killer is before there are more murders.

Tony Black’s Murder Mile also has stockings as a main ingredient. Edinburgh DI Rob Brennan and his team investigate when the body of Lindsay Sloan is discovered in a field. She’s been strangled with her own stockings, and the body mutilated. As Brennan works on the case, he learns that this murder is eerily similar to the five-year-old murder of Fiona McGow, whose killer was never caught. When the media gets wind of this possible connection, the press begin to dub the killer ‘The Edinburgh Ripper.’ Pressure builds to catch this murderer before there are any more victims. It’s not going to be an easy case though, because the one witness who may have valuable information is not willing to give it up.

There’s also Kate Flora’s Death in Paradise. Boston education consultant Thea Kozak attends an education conference on Maui (trust me; that is a beautiful place for a conference!). The director of the conference is Martina Pullman, who heads the National Association of Girls’ Schools. One morning, Pullman doesn’t appear for a conference session. Since it’s very unlike her, the other people in the session begin to get worried. A search is made, and her body is found in her hotel room, strangled with a stocking. What’s more, she’s dressed more like a ‘call girl’ than an education executive. The association isn’t exactly a united group, so there are plenty of suspects. In the end though, Kozak finds out who’s responsible and what the motive is.

See what I mean? Stockings may be very useful, but they can be extremely dangerous, too. Little wonder I like trousers as well as I do….😉

Thanks, Moira, for the inspiration. Now may I suggest your next blog round stop be at Clothes in Books, which is the source for fictional fashion and popular culture and what it all says about us.
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Beatles’ Lady Madonna.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Anthony Berkeley, Kate Flora, P.D. Martin, Tony Black