Wednesday, April 3, 2019

A Balm for Troubled Times

I’m not sure at what age I was first introduced to British mystery novels.  It feels like they’ve always been a part of my life.  I have read my way through series after series of them, and the protagonist detectives, amateur or professional, seem like old friends.

Whenever the unclean state of our oceans and air, or the hateful rise of white supremacy, or some new health scare (Benadryl = Alzheimers?? Alcohol is Bad for You???) begins to weigh on my psyche, I reach for a British mystery.

Wikipedia dubs the 1920’s and 30’s the Golden Era of Detective Fiction.  Many of the murder mystery novels that were written during this era are set in England, particularly in English Country Houses and the Clubs and Town Houses of London. 

Since I have read all of the novels by the queens of this era (Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Ngaio Marsh, Josephine Tey) I have a store of useless anachronistic knowledge about upper class life in Britain.

Boots? The generic name for the servant who cleaned footwear. 
Folly? The pointless structure in the back garden where you will find a vital clue, such as a cigarette butt.
Kippers?  Breakfast fish served in the morning room. 
The Interval?  Intermission at an opera, when the detective will spot a suspect doing something odd. 
Baize?  The felt-like material that covered the door to the servant’s wing of the house, always green.
Distributor?  A vital part of a 1920’s automobile that was forever getting wet or something and causing the detective to miss getting to the house before the second murder.

You get the idea.  It is a comforting world, and usually the person who gets bumped off is some wicked uncle no one liked anyway.

This blog post was inspired because I was just lounging on the sofa, drinking a can of La Croix Peach Pear, and avoiding thinking about what to make for dinner by re-reading “The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club” by Dorothy Sayers, when I saw this line:

“It was Salcombe Hardy, of the Daily Yell, large and untidy and slightly drunk as usual.”


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