Tuesday, October 11, 2016

TNB: Crime in Costume--Identity Misdirection {Spoiler Alert!}

The Tuesday Night Bloggers are getting ready for Halloween. So for October we have chosen "Crime in Costume" as our month-long topic. All mysteries that feature costume/disguise/appearance misdirection EXCEPT theatrical mysteries (we're saving that for another time) are fair game. If you'd like to join us for discussion of the use of costumes, masks, masquerades, costume parties and the like in the mystery genre--particularly Golden Age dangerous dress-up, but all are welcome--then please stop in every Tuesday as we gather at Kate's place over at crossexamingcrime. Pull up a chair and have a scone or two...

You know, it's interesting how it sometimes happens that when a certain topic comes up, you immediately start seeing it everywhere. We decided on costumes in crime and suddenly my reading choices reflect that (without my having the least idea that such things would be involved before picking up the books). My last two detective novels have featured a "disguise" of sorts and I hope it won't be stretching things too far--both in terms of my rather loose definition of disguise and in time period. Neither of my examples this week come from the golden age. I also want to warn readers that there is going to be some spoiling ahead, although I will try very hard to discuss my points without giving too much away. Nonetheless--continue at your own risk if you have not read Jonathan Ross's A Rattling of Old Bones (1982) and Elizabeth Lemarchand's The Affacombe Affair (1968). 

Each of these novels center around a question of identity and the use of disguise to provide much needed alibis. Ross's novel makes use of a shriveled and mummified body to assist in the disguise of identity. The body is found in Judith Quint's home and there are various points of identification which make the police, her family, and friends believe that the body is indeed hers. But is it really? And, if it's not hers, then whose body is it? And where is Judith Quint? The problems of identification are further complicated by the culprit's use of an unusual circumstance to provide the perfect disguise. It's not a disguise that one would have elected--if one had the choice, but in this instance the disguise was, quite honestly, forced upon them. Detective Superintendent George Rogers will finally be able to sort out the proper identities with the assistance of a cat. No--this isn't one of those cute cats and crime novels where the cat solves the mystery, but without the cat's assistance Rogers most likely would not have seen through the disguise. 

The Affacombe Affair is a murder mystery where, in the final summing up, the murder seems almost incidental. There is another crime afoot and the disguise is central to the plot. And it winds up being the motive for the murder. The nurse at the local school, Sister Roach, goes missing and her body is discovered at the bottom of a cliff. Investigation reveals the nurse to have been an experienced blackmailer and it would seem that she got hold of the wrong end of a blackmailing stick. She thinks she sees a spot of adultery going on, but she hasn't actually seen who she thinks she has. That case of mistaken identity--deliberately manufactured by the criminals in aid of an alibi--more than her blackmailing activities cause her death. 

In this story, the disguise employed is meant to provide an alibi for those engaged in a completely separate crime. It leads to murder...and finally to another round of make-up artistry (on the part of the police this time) which is used to jolt the villains into giving themselves away. Disguise plays a triple part here--as alibi (for both the initial crimes and the murder), as motive, and finally to facilitate the solution. 

It was very interesting to see disguise--or at the very least, identity misdirection--used in more unusual ways. Each of the novels addresses the idea of identity in a manner that allows the author to play with alibis and motives and to add an extra layer of mystification to the plot. Very enjoyable for those looking for a little different twist on the idea of disguise and misdirection.

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