As a palate cleanser between finishing Rachel Barrowman’s Maurice Gee: Life and Work and starting work on editing a massive scientific document on estuaries, I turn to Colin Watson, my favourite English comic crime novelist. It was either him or Janwillem van der Wetering, my favourite Dutch comic crime novelist.
In Watson’s 1968 novel Charity Ends at Home, regular character Lucilla Teatime, a suspect in the murder of Henrietta Palgrove, is a genteel (but, as Cactus Kate would say, quite hot for a chick her age) fraudster posing as a fundraiser for animal charities; Inspector Purbright has a highly developed sense of irony. Quote unquote:
‘It was a very threatening letter, Miss Teatime.’
She shrugged lightly. ‘I can see that you are not accustomed to handling the correspondence of charitable societies, Mr Purbright. If one took seriously every hint of nefarious goings-on, one would have no time left for the collection of funds. And what would our animals do then, poor things?’
‘There is no truth, I take it, in the suggestion that there has been misappropriation of funds?’
‘None, of course. It is misapprehension, not misappropriation, that bedevils the work of charities. People do not realize how high is the cost of administration nowadays. Modern conditions demand the employment of all sorts of expensive devices – promotion campaigns, the public relations consultant, accountants, the business efficiency expert – even computers. My goodness, inspector, there is a great deal more to it than waving a collecting box. Which’ – she raised a finger and smiled sweetly – ‘reminds me. . .’
She put the teddy bear aside and went to the fireplace, on the mantel of which was a box. She brought the box back and set it between them. ‘Just my little charge for allowing you to interview me!’
Purbright grinned and found some coins to drop in the box.
‘Purely as a formality, Miss Teatime – you do understand – could you just tell me where you were on the night of the twelfth – the night before last, that is? From ten o’clock onward, say.’
Her eyes widened. ‘In bed, inspector. Where else?’
He smiled. ‘It clearly would be impertinent of me to ask of whom I might seek corroboration of that.’
‘Not in the least; I should take it as a compliment.’ Her gaze saddened a little and fell. ‘But no, I have left things rather late. To tell the truth, it is regarding the physical side of marriage that I have always been apprehensive.’
He nodded, sympathetically.
‘There so seldom seems to be enough of it,’ said Miss Teatime.