Sunday, January 8, 2012

The G-String Murders - Gypsy Rose Lee

I truly hope tonight's browsing history doesn't lead to any particularly colourful spam (on the whole I can't recommend looking for images of vintage G-Strings) but I try to be thorough and some of the wardrobe descriptions in 'The G-String Murders' are rather outside my experience (which is mostly confined to M&S's finest). I have a few of the Femmes Fatales titles from the feminist press but this is one of my favourites (along with Vera Caspary's 'Bedelia') I bought it just before Christmas which looking at the prices now was clearly just in time. 

Given that burlesque has become so popular over the last few years (it's even reached Leicester) it surprises me that this book is all but out of print, it's also a damn good read - Gypsy rose Lee out quips Mae West which is quite impressive. The plot is a bit creaky but the atmosphere, slang, characterisation, and one liners are all brilliant, although I should warn anyone lucky enough to pick up this particular edition that there seems to be a lot of typesetting errors. Not enough to render the book unreadable but enough to be noticeable and annoying, however forewarned is forearmed and however niggly it became it's still such a good book that I didn't care in the end.

Gypsy Rose lee is the eponymous heroine of the book as well as our guide backstage in a burlesque theatre at the seedy end of 1940's New York. There are dancers - many past their best days and resorting to some desperate cosmetic measures, mobsters, impresarios, a lot of drinking, plenty of cat fights, some colourful language - basically you can pretty much smell the smoke and feel your feet sticking to the floor. Unfortunately all is not well at the old opera; Lolita La Verne (who nobody liked) has been found dead, strangled with a G-String, someone has tried to strangle Gypsy, and as if that wasn't enough the Princess Nirvena (blackmailer) also turns up dead in the Gazeeka box (no idea) anyone could be the culprit and it's a question as to whether the killer will be caught because the cops seem more interested in the chorus girls...

I know really pulpy Noir is my thing and not everybody feels the same - but honestly what sensible person could resist an opening like this:
"Finding dead bodies scattered all over a burlesque theatre isn't the sort of thing you're likely to forget. Not quickly, anyway. It's the little things, incidents that don't seem important when they happen, that slip your mind.
     With me, for instance. As long as I live, I'll remember seeing that bloated, bluish face, the twisted, naked body, and the glitter of a G string hanging like an earring from the swollen neck. Sometimes, even now, I wake up in a cold sweat with the sounds of a body squashing on the stage, and Dolly Baxter's screams in my ears."


  1. Sounds utterly fab. I had a pleasant surprise too with a book of this sort in 'She done him wrong' by Mae West - which turned out to be brilliantly written and wonderfully witty.

  2. Gaskella - Mae West is fab but Gypsy Rose Lee is even better so far. This book is great fun and I see the feminist press are bringing out another of her titles later this year which I'm mildly excited by now.