I read Joan Fleming for the first time last year because the cover of her book, The Chill and the Kill, had me intrigued when I first read about the book at John Norris’ iconic Pretty Sinister Books.
The cover with its serpentine female figure reminded me of the Indian legend of the shape-shifting Nagins, female serpents who can assume the form of a beautiful woman to entrap any male. Every few years, there appear movies and serials based on this legend, some of them blockbusters like Nagin, a 1976 revenge drama in which such a serpent takes revenge from the men who killed her mate and Nagina (1986) where a young man falls in love with a mysterious woman who slithers in and out of his life. There is definitely a dance where the heroine gyrates (seductively?) unable to resist the music of the snake-charmer’s been which can control her even in her human form.
And there is an Indian connect in Fleming’s book which has a teenager, Rita Side, who suddenly develops a psychic ability to foretell the future after being involved in an accident. Soon she is predicting deaths and as her words come true, tensions arise at her home and in her village. Soon a murder rocks the village…
I enjoyed the book despite some inaccuracies about India and was totally taken-aback when the identity of the murderer was revealed and decided to read more of Fleming.
In Miss Bones, young Thomas Melsonby, eager to get out of the shadow of his illustrious diplomat father, takes up as a job as an art-restorer at Walpurgis, a curio shop, owned by a certain Mr. Walpurgis. Only Walpurgis (the man that is) is actually Smith but had changed his name when he took over the shop from its original owner who died in the Sloane Square bombing. But that’s not the only curious thing about him, he also has a mysterious friend called Wood-Bevington whom he seems to be in awe of. Thomas who is giving lodgings in the premises soon gets acquainted with another lodger, a Lady Goole, and he alternatively feels pity and revulsion for her. He also finds himself attracted towards a young girl who lives in the neighbourhood and whose attitude towards him confuses him a lot. While Thomas is negotiating these relationships, he is also troubled by the strange going-ons in the shop. One day the penny drops that Walpurgis is a fence who receives stolen goods and passes them on. Keen to get out, Thomas tenders his resignation but Walpurgis is not willing to let him go. But then one fine day, Walpurgis himself disappears. Thomas turns detective but really he should have left it to the professionals.
I liked both the books though the murderer was easy to guess in Miss Bones unlike in The Chill and the Kill. Especially enjoyed the evocation of the late fifties in Miss Bones with its fashion trends of eye makeup for girls and the teddy boy look for the men. John, who enjoys the writings of Joan Fleming, has written about the cultural tid-bits, in his fine review here. Both the books are available @ Open Library. along with a number of other books by Fleming. I’ll definitely be reading more of her.
Have you read these books? How did you find them? Any other book of hers that you’d like to recommend?
First Line: Until the vicarage car knocked her down and narrowly avoided running her over, she was a perfectly normal girl.
Title: The Chill and The Kill
Publication Details: NY: Ballantine Books, 1966
First Published: 1964
First Line: The taxi stopped in the quiet cul-de-sac where the road-way ended and the flagged traffic=free area began.
Title: Miss Bones
Publication Details: NY: Ives Washburn, 1960
First Published: 1959