Every month on Past Offences I gather together blog posts about crime fiction written or filmed in a particular year. Regular contributor Santosh picked 1947, which proved to be something of a challenge for lots of us – it seems like ’47 was a lean year for books.
Still, there’s always the movies.
Brad offered up three films noir from 1947, Out of the Past, Dark Passage, and The Unsuspected.
Running a tense 97 minutes, Past immediately breaks with tradition by setting itself in a charming small California town. Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum) owns the gas station, loves to fish, eats at the local diner, and dates the plain old “good girl, Ann Miller (Virginia Huston). But Jeff Bailey is really Jeff Markham, and his former life as a private eye of dubious morals involves gangsters and perhaps the coldest, most evil femme fatale in the history of film noir.
Jose Ignacio also tuned in to Dark Passage, directed by Delmer Daves and reuniting Bogart and Bacall.
…the third of the four films starring by Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart that they rolled together between 1944 and 1948, although one of the lesser ones. For my taste the storyline relies on an excessive number of coincidences which are hard to believe. Anyway, I always enjoy this extraordinary pair that are able to fill the entire screen on their own account.
Lucy at The Art of Words watched the Agatha Christie-inspired Love from a Stranger:
In 1947, the period of this film was nearly 50 years ago, and modern people became quite fascinated by it, copying its fashions and decor. In fact, the clothes and interiors are the best thing about this film. A lot of the stuff must still have been around, as people changed their houses less (or couldn’t afford to), and people in the 30s and 40s often lived surrounded by Victorian tat. We get a good look at Cecily’s flat – full of furniture and china and ornaments.
Meanwhile, it was a tough year for books. As The Puzzle Doctor wrote:
1947 seems to be a year when all of the major crime writers decided to take a mini-break together and not write anything.
He brought us (the not-so-major) Michael Innes’ A Night of Errors:
Was this one worth it? I’m not really sure, to be honest. The plot is rather bonkers – it’s pretty convoluted but some of the distractions are ridiculous, especially one event that ends up having nothing to do at all with the main story – or even to do with any subplot. It got me thinking about a cunning gambit that Innes might have been playing so to find out that it was utterly irrelevant was very disappointing. And even with the convoluted plot (with a lot of the action happening off-stage), the ending did raise something of a “was that it?” response.
A new player this month: Noah’s Archive brought us John Rhode’s Nothing But the Truth and picked out loads of interesting 1947 details, including the profusion of A. A. phone boxes (pictured on the first edition’s cover), and the fact that handsome men were slightly sunburnt:
I wasn’t aware that cosmetic preparations for males were sufficiently well-known in 1947 as to be a matter of common knowledge, and even more surprising to me that someone doesn’t remark how effeminate is the use of such a product. Of course, they’re discussing the impersonation of a South African farmer, not social advancement.
Shortly afterwards, Noah announced his hopefully temporary retirement from blogging. I hope it wasn’t 1947 that put him off…
Bev at My Reader’s Block read Lewis Padgett’s The Day He Died for us:
The story of Caroline Hale, a mystery author, who finds herself terrorized by someone who can enter her apartment at will–avoiding all the traps she lays from strings across passageways to flour sprinkled on the floor. Her mysterious visitor inserts plagiarized excerpts into her manuscripts which cause her publishers to want nothing to do with her. Her nerves are on edge and she finds herself not only terrified, but losing her memory and her ability to think straight.
The Iron Clew is an excellent title, concerns a schoolteacher and mysterious brown-paper packages, and is, according to crossexaminingcrime,
a superb comic take on the innocent fugitive novel, with the chapters ending with suitably dramatic cliff hangers. The plot involves a high amount of coincidences, which the narrative is conscious of, but because of this deliberateness these coincidences work perfectly, adding to the humour of the story.
‘The old octopus of fate’ mentioned by Kate in her review was almost this month’s title, but I thought I’d go for some search engine optimisation instead.
Allan MacKinnon’s House of Darkness, reviewed at My Reader’s Block, has a very 1947 flavour, concerning the adventures of a demobbed soldier:
Colin Ogilvie is on his way back to Britain to (reluctantly) return to civilian life after being demobbed at the end of the war. He’s taken the long way ’round, spending time as a deckhand on a fishing smack, working his way though other odd jobs, and ending with a stint on an archaeological dig before landing Cairo. He’s finally convinced himself to head back to seek a teaching position when he runs into his old friend Jerry Gray on the Continental Terrace. That’s when life got interesting for Ogilvie again.
More of demobbed soldiers in Mickey Spillane’s I, The Jury.
For me I, THE JURY is an old novel whose time has, thankfully, long gone. The things that undoubtedly made it noteworthy at the time – the sex and violence – are tame by today’s standards and the things which make it noteworthy now – the undiagnosed PTSD of its lead character and everyone’s bigotry – need no more publicity in their unreconstructed form […] In short the book is boobs, booze, bigotry and bullets. Presumably all the things a white, American, male living in the aftermath of the second world war was looking for in a read but I’d rather gnaw off my own arm than venture down this literary path again.
Jose Ignacio at A Crime is Afoot continued his reading of Simenon with 1947’s Maigret in New York:
During the chaos of customs clearance on arrival [in New York], Maigret loses sight of the young man who travels with him. The young man in question, Jean Maura, has disappeared and no one knows where he might have gone. The story goes back to some days earlier, when Jean Maura went to visit Maigret and asked him to accompany him to New York, at the suggestion of his legal adviser, Monsieur d’Hoquélus, a highly respected notary, known by Maigret in name only. The young man was convinced that his father, Joachim Maura a wealthy businessman from New York, is in danger.
Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise also reviewed Maigret in New York:
Simenon obviously wanted to write a novel about New York – he had recently arrived in 1947 – incorporating his own experiences and impressions, but also including comment on the influence of the Sicilian Mafia in economic affairs. There are some very strange characters in this novel, and from this distance some not-quite-believable plot lines.
Kate brought us Joan Coggin’s Dancing with Death which she enjoyed a lot:
Joan Coggins is one of the Golden Age’s less well known mystery writers, but in the 1940s she wrote a quartet of novels featuring serial sleuth Lady Lupin, who may appear silly and foolish (mainly because she is adept at talking at cross purposes with others), but in fact has a strong intuitive understanding of those around her which helps her to unravel the mysteries she inevitably gets mixed up in. These novels are situated within the comic crime subgenre, with Lady Lupin being incongruously but happily married to a vicar.
Less pleasant fare is Gerald Kersh’s Prelude to a Certain Midnight, which I read and reviewed.
Prelude is written with a grim black humour, a forensic insight into the psychology of every kind of oxygen-thief Kersh could conjure up, and an ultimately bleak view of human affairs on ‘the fly-blown face of the exhausted earth’. It’s not going to cheer you up, but it is a fascinating book.
Moira at Clothes in Books reviewed Ngaio Marsh’s Final Curtain:
I’m sure Marsh researched the medical details, but she doesn’t seem to have looked too closely at legal matters: all wills are automatically invalidated on marriage, so under normal circs no-one would ever make a will shortly before his or her wedding, there would be no point. No-one seems to know that, including the venerable old family solicitor, and it would have taken some fun out of the back-and-forths here, and made some of the activities not impossible but extremely unlikely, given that a marriage is very much due to happen. There also seems to be an inheritance problem when it’s all over – but then the ending of the book IS extremely and disappointingly abrupt. Someone is arrested, and Alleyn kindly explains the murders to Troy, but we are given no clue as to what will happen to the rest of the family.
Time for one more: Tracy at Bitter Tea and Mystery reviewed future Poet Laureate Nicholas Blake’s Minute for Murder:
The book opens shortly after V-E Day. Nigel Strangeways works in the Visual Propaganda Division in the Ministry of Morale. A war-hero (and former member of the division) returns to visit the group, and the director’s personal secretary is poisoned at the office gathering to celebrate his return. Nicholas Blake is the pseudonym of Cecil Day Lewis, who worked as a Publications Editor for the Ministry of Information during World War II, and used his experiences in writing this book.
Thanks to everyone who played this month, with the usual apologies if I have missed you (and just put your review in the comments if I have). In April we will be looking at 1945 – anyone is welcome to join in.