I don’t have a lot of luck with the blurbs on Christianna Brand books. The back of my copy of Tour de Force spoiled an important plot point, undermining with a single sentence an effect that Brand spends the entire book trying to cultivate. The back of the Carroll & Graf edition of Death in High Heels isn’t quite as bad as that, but it makes up for only providing moderate spoilers by containing some massive factual inaccuracies. Luckily I didn’t read it until after I finished the book!
[This naturally has spoilers for Death in High Heels. If you don’t want to be spoiled then don’t click the link, and don’t under any circumstances get the Carroll & Graf edition! I wouldn’t recommend it even if you vow not to read the blurb. There were tons of printing errors and even an entire page of smudged text!]
Death in High Heels is Brand’s first book, first published in 1941. It’s about a murder in an up-scale dress shop, investigated and later solved by a young police inspector who would go on to become one of Brand’s two regular detectives. It’s a straightforward enough set-up, and I expect most people after reading it would be able to write a little summary that was tantalising without being revealing. But I’m not convinced anyone at Carroll & Graf actually did read it!
Here’s the blurb in full:
“Young Mr Chatsworth of Scotland Yard has been assigned to a murder in a dress shop. But the main suspects are five deliciously beautiful young women, and Mr Chatsworth is notoriously susceptible to feminine charms. He is no match for them when they unite to obstruct his investigation – especially when he falls in love with the most obvious suspect. But then there is a second mysterious death.”
Which seems completely innocuous. Except not a single one of those four brief sentences should have made it onto the back. In order from least to most egregious:
I don’t see why the second sentence mentions “five” women. There are nine women listed in the cast of characters at the beginning, and eight of them are suspects. I confess I’m not very good at paying attention to character descriptions, but only one of them definitely isn’t young or beautiful.
The third sentence gives away two important facts, and one of them isn’t really accurate. Victoria David, who the inspector does indeed fall quickly in love with, isn’t “the most obvious suspect” by any means. She’s certainly a suspect from the beginning, but she doesn’t become the main suspect until quite late in the book.
More importantly, the fact that the women “unite to obstruct his investigation” is a key part of the unravelling of the mystery. It isn’t revealed until near the very end, when it turns out that almost all of the shop girls have reached the same (false) solution long before the inspector.
The last sentence is an outright lie. There isn’t a second mysterious death at all. Irene Best tries to commit suicide and survives.
And what about the first sentence? “Young Mr Chatsworth of Scotland Yard has been assigned to a murder in a dress shop”? What could be wrong with such a simple outline? Well, nothing… except that Brand’s detective was, is and always will be called CHARLESworth!
So two spoilers, two plot errors and they couldn’t even get the name of the main character right! All in under seventy words. This must be a contender for the worst mystery blurb of all time. Or are there some ever worse howlers out there…?