Meet another player in the Symington Byrd mysteries: Mordecai Gold, a man who “dances on the edge of the criminal world.”
Mordy (as he is known to his friends) runs a jewelers -come- pawnbrokers. He is a hard nosed businessman, with an eye for a bargain.
But I didn’t want him to be the stereotypical Jew of literature. When Walter Scott created Isaac of York he made him an extreme – the complete antithesis of his beautiful daughter Rebecca; while both George Du Maurier and Dickens created wholly evil criminal masterminds – who looked and acted in an immediately identifiable caricature.
There’s far more to Mordy than that. Tall, white haired – grandfatherly – this is a man who will admit to being 50 but not a day older. Having escaped the pogroms of Eastern Europe, Mordy made his home in Whitechapel. Using his connections Mordy has built up a reputation as an honest criminal. He is the soul of discretion who (trusted by the highest born and the lowliest of beggars) will ensure the best deal is achieved for all (though obviously the house will always win). But you cross him at your peril. Fail to keep your word and retribution is swift.
A man who always has sweets in his pockets, Mordy is at the centre of his community: respected, loved and feared in equal measure
When he first encounters Emily, the lonely little girl who spends at least ten minutes of her walk home from school staring into his shop window, Mordy sees an outsider – just like himself: a mystery inside an enigma. After her father’s death, when her mother brings trinkets to pawn to pay for the funeral, Mordy finds himself being wrapped around the finger of a 7 year old girl who has wisdom beyond her years and an innate ability to identify rough diamonds. Intrigued and sensing there is more to Emily and her mother than meets the eye, Mordy makes her mother an offer that will ensure that as Emily grows up she becomes the Pawnbroker’s apprentice.
I have made a decision, my gentleman detective needs a dressing gown.
Well, you’d have thought I’d have asked the Pope to change religion!
You see, if I wanted an Arthur Dent style dressing gown, I’d have been fine. Not only could I have sourced one for Symington at the start of the 20th century, but I could get one for OH from Ebay…
But a man’s dressing gown? Very limited stock indeed from which to choose.
See what I mean?
Now Symington is a man of taste, suaveness and sophistication. I can’t see him in any of the above.
Well possibly the last one but in black and gold…
Crime Fiction would be lost without the detective, whether it be the hard-nosed kind found in American crime novels – like Mike Hammer and Philip Marlowe, or their British counterparts – Sherlock Holmes, Lord Peter Whimsey and Hercule Poirot.
European fiction tends to favour a gentleman detective; who comes from the educated classes; is at home in a world that we like to think existed in the years prior to the Great War and ended just after the Second World War, and who has an unusual (if not downright eccentric) manner. They are gentleman if not by birth, certainly in the way they behave; and they are members of what the Georgian world called the Ton (the top 100 families). Their detecting takes place in a cozy world – known as the locked room; their suspects are all flawed and ( for the Marxist among you) degenerate representatives of a dying and parasitic class. Not only does the detective battle against a closed society; they also clash with the professional police who are presented as dim witted, lower class fools. This is apparently a backlash against the bungled investigation into the Ripper Murders of 1888, and the popular misconception that the police were incapable of detecting crime because they were not intelligent or educated enough.
Each detective is accompanied by a companion – usually male – who acts as a sounding board. They are not always from the same social class, but their skills complement or even augment the central character.
Bizarrely the first Gentleman detective was not British – but French – and created by an American, albeit an anglophile. This detective was Edgar Allen Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin. Making his appearance in 1841, in the Murders in the Rue Morgue (the first of three cases) Dupin was not an immediate success and underwent quite a few changes in his modus operandi. But he was a Chevalier in the Legion D’honneur, and he was obsessed with collecting books. He started out as an amateur detective who would visit the crime scene and take an active part in the investigation – but only when called upon by the authorities. In book two, he had become introverted rarely leaving his rooms – the epitome of the armchair detective, and only after appalling reviews (for this second book – The Mystery of Marie Roget -1842) did Poe make the changes allowing Dupin to become what readers would now recognise as the gentleman detective (The Purloined letter (1844).
Intriguingly, Poe did not believe his character to be successful and moved away from crime fiction. Yet, Poe’s initial concept blossomed in English literature. The first English Amateur detective (Franklin Blake) appeared in 1866 – in what aficionados of this genre regard as the first English Crime Story – The Moonstone. He was followed by a character whose name is synonymous with crime fiction: Sherlock Holmes. And should you care to compare Dupin and Holmes closely, you will see why it is possible to argue that Doyle did not create his detective, he simply lifted him from Paris and planted him in London. In temperament, intelligence and bravery he is the equal if not the mirror image of Dupin.
After that the floodgates open: Wimsey, Campion, Alleyn, Poirot and Marple (from the Golden Age); with Dalgleish, Lynley, Makepeace (of Dempsy and Makepeace fame) Jonathon Creek and even -possibly – Professor Layton representing the modern era.
Until Marple – society would have us believe that women detectives were conspicuous by their absence, and yet, the first female detective, Mrs Gladden, appeared in 1864 some 23 years before Holmes. In many respects her techniques are those of Holmes. She is an active detective: visiting the crime scene, using disguise to protect herself from discovery by the criminal classes, as well as treating the police with the correct level of disdain.
Given the public’s insatiable appetite for the detective it is probably that had she been male her fame would have been equal to (if not greater than that of Holmes). But female detectives – while not isolated – were not the staple of popular fiction.
According to Dorothy L Sayers it is because they are so “irritatingly intuitive as to destroy that quiet enjoyment of the logical which we look for in our detective reading.” Sayer’s main complaint, however, is that the female detective “tends to be too young, too beautiful and too interested in marriage.” In addition, her “propensity” to “walk” into “dangerous situations” interrupts the male ability to “solve crimes.” She may have a point: until Marple – female detectives were 40 or younger. Mrs Paschell who works for Colonel Warner is 40 and in need of a job; Hilda Serene is 25, while Kate Goelet is only 23.
Perhaps another reason for the failure of the female detective is the fact that they were all created by male writers. Indeed, it was not until 1897 that Amelia Butterworth was created by Anna Katharine Green.
The development of the proto feminist movement of the 1890’s, with its focus on the idea that women could be financially independent of men, allowed more female detectives to come to the fore. Dora Myrl, the Lady Detective (1900) is the daughter of a Cambridge Don; Joan Mar, Detective (1910) created by Marie Connor Leighton is the first female for whom marriage is not a consideration. However, even at this time, these female detectives were expected to conform to the stereotype. Indeed Molly Kingsley in Hazel Campbell’s Olga Knaresbrook, Detective (1933) eschews the life of the detective upon marriage.
And so to Miss Marple – who first appeared in 1930 – a woman who remained 65 for the fifty years she appeared in print. Returning to Sayer’s condemnation of the female detective ( intriguingly forgotten when she came to write about Harriet Vane), it is possible to argue that Miss Marple’s success resulted not from her age, but from the fact that she while she had a phenomenal intelligence, it came from the observation of the world around her – in a homespun, almost absent minded way.
This is Abbey Kat – an elder states’ cat. She can’t take the excitement, as you can see.
I think I may need to rename her: Eggs Benedict Abbey
Inside Leytonstone Underground station is a series of mosaics celebrating the films of its most famous son (and one of him as a young boy outside the family shop.) I won’t insult your intelligence by labelling them. What I will say, is that for those interested in such things, one of the films depicted in these mosaics, gives is the title of the book Lucy is searching for! Feel free to guess… there’s no prize though!
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From the Diary of Lucy Pevensea Von Schmidt – Time Traveller –
November the 8th 1949
I’m dressed up to the nines in a white evening dress I can’t begin to describe – except to say Greta Garbo would look better in it than I do. It’s backless and strapless and held up with will power. We’re at the party, in an ante-room waiting to be met by the guest of honour. I’m by far the youngest here. But I’m not the most nervous.
Everyone I look at is nervous. Soldiers of various rank and stature; eye each other up. Women with far more poise than I will ever have twist their fans and stare around them, at the array of famous faces. Infamous faces, to my mind, ruthless murderers and their ladies dressed in their finery – taking full advantage of this disruption to the timelines. I’m not nervous, because I have nothing to lose. If I’m caught; I’m dead. I know the risks. And it’s a risk I’ll gladly take to make everything right again.
I’ve never been to this location before. Not in my time. Not in any time. But I know whose house it is. Or rather I know whose palace it was. It makes me sad that all this now belongs to the Conqueror.
As I wait my turn (at the end of the long receiving line that wends its way down long, thin corridors stuffed with dead animal heads and crockery) I tire of looking at the paintings on the walls, at the Van Dyke clocks and the beautiful tapestries. My feet hurt and I want to get this introduction over and done with. Not that I know why we’re here or what this party is for. HE won’t tell me! Says it’s on a need to know.
I want to get the meal over and done with I want to get to the dancing in the room where the library is. I want to get a chance to look at the books. You see I think the one we’re looking for is here.
The line moves slowly; very slowly. Obviously our unknown host is spending time talking to each of his guests. That’s fine by me – I get to spend more time in this palace. And it is beautiful, even with all these Swastikas everywhere. When/If I get home, I must go and see what it really looks like.
My thoughts are interrupted: “Look up! We’re being watched.” It’s a silly statement, we’ve been watched by sharp faced guards ever since we arrived in Woodstock. Dutifully, however, I do as my companion tells me. And he is right. Four secret watchers:one in each corner, staring down at us.
“Beautiful, aren’t they?”
I nod. I wish I could get closer, touch the golden wings with my finger; trace the outline of magnificence. But they are high above me.
“I wonder what secrets they’ve overheard in their time?” Valentin says.
So entranced by their beauty, I momentarily forget where I am: “And what ones they should have heard but can’t because Time’s gone wrong?”
A woman with more jewellery than sense, stares at me
Valentin returns her look and it is clear she is frightened of his uniform. He smiles and pulls me closer – as sign of ownership. “Be on your guard” he whispers, loud enough for her to hear and think these words were meant for her. “You don’t know who’s listening. And remember always German. Never English. It’s so common.”
Jewellery woman condescends to smile and I realise she doesn’t speak English. I am safe.
It’s then he drops the first bombshell of the evening. “Someone, from your future is here. He’s watching you. Can’t believe his eyes. You see, he last saw you in London,1940! Be careful, Lucy my love.” I nod to show I understand. He puts his mouth next to my ear, so only I hear the next three words. “Mengele is dangerous…”
This extract was inspired by the following picture, and is in response to Sidey’s weekend challenge. For more takes on this challenge click here