Monday, January 5, 2015

"Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman"

Tessa Arlen, the daughter of a British diplomat, had lived in or visited her parents in Singapore, Cairo, Berlin, the Persian Gulf, Beijing, Delhi and Warsaw by the time she was sixteen. She came to the U.S. in 1980 and worked as an H.R. recruiter for the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee for the 1984 Olympic Games, where she interviewed her future husband for a job. She lives in Bainbridge Island, Washington.

Arlen applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman, and reported the following:
Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman is a mystery of betrayal, blackmail and revenge set in 1912 Britain. The English aristocracy led such privileged and protected lives I wanted to stage a murder at the country house of one of their most elite families, causing embarrassment and scandal among a class of people who gave the meaning of the term ‘double-standard’ a gilt-edge.

Page 69 provides us with a useful glimpse into how upper servants regarded their role to the family they served. To say their loyalties were feudal is rather an understatement. In 1912 English servants to the aristocracy really knew their place! The family they served came first, often before their own welfare and certainly before their own concerns and needs. They were forbidden to marry and women servants were not allowed to have what were known as “followers.” In other words a maid could be fired for having a boyfriend. This unquestioning loyalty is demonstrated in the relationship between the mistress of the house and her housekeeper when they break with convention and unite in their own under-cover murder investigation.

On Page 69 the butler and the housekeeper learn that a dead man has been found on the estate. This news adds to the housekeeper’s anxiety for a fifteen year old housemaid who has been missing for most of the day. Despite the fact that the Iyntwood servants consider each other to be family, the butler unquestioningly puts his duty to his master before that of a mere servant girl, even though she might be in very real danger.
Whatever it was that Theo told Mr. Hollyoak, it was bad news of the worst sort, Mrs. Jackson grasped, as she watched the butler shrug himself into his morning coat and make for the scullery door with more haste than he usually employed. Convinced that Theo’s waxy-white face and agitated manner had something to do with Violet’s disappearance she hovered by the butler’s pantry waiting for Mr. Hollyoak to return. Her inner panic and horror knew no bounds when twenty-two minutes later he reappeared and told her that Theo had found a dead man in Crow’s Wood.

“Did he say who it was?” She had asked the butler the question a half-dozen times until she could tell by the set of his shoulders that she should not say another word on the matter.

“You are worried about Violet, aren’t you?” She heard kindly concern in his voice and nodded her head.

“I want to send Dick to the village to see if she’s with her father,” she said.

“Not yet, Mrs. Jackson, A man has been killed on the estate, a missing housemaid is of no consequence right now. We will wait until his lordship returns to the house and then we’ll see...”
Visit Tessa Arlen's website.

--Marshal Zeringue