A Three Pipe Problem

This week I have read The Norwich Victims by Francis Beeding, Fire Burn! by John Dickson Carr (which I picked up for just £1 the previous week at the Book Barn – what a bargain) and The Greene Murder Case by S S Van Dine. I found the historic setting of Fire Burn! gave it a very different feel. I am not sure I go for the bang on the head/time travel book-ending of the story but then it worked for the TV series Life on Mars though that only went back to the 1970’s rather than 1829 as Dickson Carr chose to do.

One of the peculiarities of manner which emerged about the pre-Victorians was their prudish reaction to the excesses of the earlier Regency era.  So along with keeping one’s hat on indoors, and always wearing gloves (useful for those of a criminal disposition), there was the treatment of smoking which is not a million miles from the modern almost blanket ban anywhere civilised. A female charcter notes to a male character that she can tell he has been smoking but doesn’t mind even though she ought to do so.

This makes such a change from the usual Golden Age novel set 100 years later. Then everybody smokes, the only question is what? Of course, pipes are favoured by some of the cerebral detectives (following Holmes we see Wimsey and Campion both indulging in pipes at one time or another). Others go for cigars (Gervase Fen, Roger Sheringham  et al – as well as Wimsey and Campion when social occasions require it). Cigarettes are more the preserve of the police detectives (Inspector Martin) or Americans (Philo Vance – though, to confuse the issue, he speaks with an effete, laconic drawl in the finest Wimsey or Campion tradition).

Women tend to smoke less, however, and this can be a pointer to their moral and hence criminal tendencies – I won’t give examples to avoid spoilers but you have been warned! Note to self – must check if Harriet Vane smoked in Strong Poison – now that would have been a red herring though it could be a marker laid down by Dorothy Sayers that Vane is in the feminist vanguard.

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