Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Lipstick Chronicles

Reviews of two mysteries I've read recently, both of which prominently feature lipstick as damning evidence of guilt

The Franchise Affair

This Josephine Tey novel is beautifully written and the protag, gentleman-sleuth/country lawyer Robert Blair is marvelous, as are the two ladies who live in the old country house of the title: The Franchise. Marion Sharpe is a captivating spinster, and one of my favorite characters in fiction. (Her old mother is wonderful too.) When they are framed by a little number named Betty Kane, they turn to Robert Blair to help clear their good name, whose case turns on a number of subtle clues, not the least of which is an errant tube of lipstick. With an eleventh hour miracle and a compelling – and amusing – courtroom scene at its finale, this book overflows with wit and suspense, drama and sparkling spinsters. I only wish I could read it again for the first time. If Miss Pym Disposes is half as good as the Franchise Affair, I expect a masterpiece.

From Doon With Death

This Ruth Rendell novel teaches us a number of lessons, not the least of which is never to underestimate a housewife. Sedate hausfrau Margaret Parsons goes missing one day, and her killer turns out to be an obsessive lover from her past – but that’s not a spoiler, because you can pretty much surmise that from the opening prologue. It's the identity of the lover that's the problem. And it’s especially when a circle of upper-crust snobs far beyond Margaret's social station enter on the suspect scene that you truly begin to wonder what’s going on. What kind of secret was this seemingly mousy woman hiding? Deviously subtle and encoded with references to the overriding theme (I dare not speak their names, since *that* might be a spoiler), with clues that nag at your subconscious but don’t add up till the end, this is a most artfully crafted mystery novel. And what a marvelously literary mystery lies beneath the cheap looking cover of my edition, a paperback, which features a hideous purple lipstick, though in the book it s a pinky-brown shade that gets one of our suspects in trouble. There you go ladies, stick with a classic red.

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