Thursday, June 3, 2010

DP 6/3 - More Marple

On the whole, the tennis in France is a bit mixed. If the Federer streak of 23 consecutive major semifinals had to end, it would have been nice for it not to have been ended by Robin Soderling, the least appealing player I have ever seen representing Sweden. But Tomas Berdych has long been due for a good result, and Jurgen Melzer has spared the world a possible Soderling-Djokovic final, which I might not even have watched. Melzer beating Rafael Nadal would be a bigger upset than the wild and wacky final six years ago, when Guillermo Coria was crusing towards the title and crushing Gaston Gaudio when he started cramping, had to tank the entire fourth set, and then somehow had two match points in the fifth set before Gaudio (who this year lost in the second round of qualifying) became, as he said to John McEnroe recently, the worst major champion in history. Nadal-Berdych for choice, and I would not even mind seeing Nadal lose, although Nadal defeating Soderling would be a satisfying end to the tournament.

On the women's side, my primary objective has been achieved - Serena Williams' possible Grand Slam has ended. I do not dislike Serena, but would prefer she not be the one to end the 22-year drought since Steffi Graf produced not only the Grand Slam but the Olympic gold medal as well. Other than that, it was a shame to see Elena Dementieva have to retire today; she is hardly likely ever to get another chance half as good. Nothing against Francesca Schiavone, but she is a complete nonentity about whom there really isn't anything to like. It's a pity Li Na didn't beat her earlier in the tournament. But it's hard at this point, especially after her rout today of Jelena Jankovic, to see Samantha Stosur survive Justine Henin and Serena and then lose now. It has happened before that players have beaten both Williams sisters in a major and then not won, but Stosur came in with strong clay form, looks commanding, and seems in excellent position to end the Australian women's drought.

Well, away we go with this week's crop of letters, which finds me still in Marple Mode.

L1: I suppose it is necessary to cross-examine the witness on exactly why she is 95% certain of what was happening behind the desk. I think normally one could raise 10% of doubt that anyone would yield to such urges without bothering even to shut the door. Perhaps the witness has had considerable experience of interrupting such occurrences. Or perhaps hers is the sort of law firm on which someone might base a television series.

While the witness will no doubt attempt to pass off her blackmail comment as a joke if pressed on the matter, this is the sort of statement that makes one want to adhere to the adage of there being no accidents. Blackmail would be in LW1's mind if she felt she could pull it off. LW1 is taking as a role model Ella Zielinski from *The Mirror Crack'd*. After the death of Heather Badcock and the realization that someone had put a fatal dose of Calmo in Marina Gregg's glass, Ella began a little adventure of telephoning any possible likely suspect and hinting that she'd seen the glass being doped. Unfortunately for Ella, her hayfever spoiled the anonymity of her calls, and when she got on to the right person, she soon found her inhaler laced with cyanide.

As to what LW1 should actually do, she's already missed her big chance. She should clearly have asked her boss in as ambiguous a manner as she could muster if he needed any help with anything. That might have flushed out any birds lurking in the bush, and perhaps given our little blackmailer something with which she could really work. We can add a few questions about how attracted she is to her employer; Ella Zielinski was quite devoted to Jason Rudd. Perhaps the thing to do is to sneak hidden cameras into his office. If she turns out to have been correct, reprisals might follow, and then in that case her rather odd story can use any corroborration she might be able to accumulate.

Moral: Make sure that only you have access to your inhalers.

L2: I want to go a bit deeper into the question of the bitter custody fight. Why was it so bitter? What were the grounds of the dispute? Have such battles been par for the course since the divorce, regular occurrences, rare events? How well have the pair in question been co-parenting? Probably they have been avoiding co-parenting like the plague.

I notice that the witness and everyone else seems to be accepting her son's testimony without question. There ought to be a question. As much as it might shock some readers to discover that I was once fifteen and male at the same time myself, I can reveal that a variety of my written output from that period would not necessarily be either true or false. And a divorce which was not to occur for another dozen or so years would have given me even more fuel for fiction. In *The Herb of Death* Sir Henry Clithering, as I mentioned once before, tells Dolly Bantry that if she omitted a piece of vital information he will claim a foul. I shall join Sir Henry by saying that, if we discover that the boy has a history of trying to play his parents off against each other, that alters the landscape considerably.

At the time of this composition, all the opinions I have seen have been in favour of LW2 going to war armed with all the facts she can muster and disproving the lies one by one. I shall probably be alone on this one, completely alone, and I am fine with it. But that could be the worst course of action possible.

Apparently people seem to believe that LW2 can sit down with a brainwashed child, calmly present an assortment of facts to disprove the lies he's been fed, and he will immediately go back into Mommy I Love You mode (as well as hating Daddy) for the rest of his life. Laissez-moi rire.

While it is possible that Junior was simply repeating nasty words said by Daddy, he was still able to write the nasty words and apparently has a rather low opinion of at least one of his parents. Given the vicious custody fight, from which it appears that neither parent has made it a priority to shield the boy, he may well have equally poor opinions of them both. We may have to go back into why the question of custody was so hotly disuputed when the boy was quite old enough to have a decisive opinion. However, assuming for the moment that Junior is not the devious young thing some of us were at that age, all we can say for certain is that he apparently at least is willing to believe what his father tells him. It certainly appears that the boy is surrounded by hostility on both sides, even if it's not aimed at him.

As far as the snooping goes, I find it hard to care any way at all. There are a variety of snooping policies. Some parents are admitted snoops; some claim to respect privacy and do so; some have a Don't Ask Don't Tell sort of snooping policy, and I find it difficult to choose one over another. If one is going to claim that one wants to avoid snooping unless absolutely necessary, I don't think that the boy simply not talking to his mother is the strongest case for snooping with cause, but I shall let it go.

As for what LW2 should do, I shall provide her with a role model - Philippa Haymes in *A Murder is Announced*. Philippa, a quiet young woman with a son at school, boards with Miss Blacklock and works as an assistant gardener. All she tells people about her husband is that he went away to the war and was killed in Italy. As it happens, he deserted from the Army, as the police discover. His visit to Chipping Cleghorn nearly lands Philippa in trouble, as her meeting with him is overheard and mistaken as being a conversation with the murder victim.

The boy's misguided beliefs seem possible to correct without a direct confrontation, which definitely strikes me as short term thinking. Possibly LW2 can emphatically disprove what her ex has been saying about her, but even so the boy might be so determined to believe the lies that her providing her proofs will just harden his resistance and accomplish only a surface acquiescence to facts. A slower approach on the high road, indirectly bringing out little dribs and drabs of the truth without ever openly calling the ex a liar, might lead to belief just as soon and could avoid causing further resentment in the boy's life. LW2 might casually mention, for instance, that it's the anniversary of the day when she learned she was pregnant. That might lead to a direct confrontation, but it might be the sort of thing that passes at the moment until later when the boy, having accepted it at the moment as true, realizes that it conflicts with what his father had told him. A few little things like that spaced out over time, coupled with attacking her ex or defending herself directly as little as possible, seems far more likely to produce the desired result of an adult son who has come to appreciate her restraint.

Moral: Philippa Haymes says that silence isn't the same as telling lies. Not every lie has to be challenged to be disproved.

L3: I shall partially recuse myself on this letter. I have personally been in the unfortunate position of twice having to request property from relatives of the deceased. Having seen the way in which cheap trophies can quickly lose their appeal over time as accumulated junk, I purchased in 1996 and 2000 a number of nicer and more expensive cups to award as prizes to my players. The winner would keep the cup for a year and then present it to the next year's champion. In 2002, a five-time winner who'd won the last cup in 2001, had to stop playing in April and died two months later. Fortunately, the second runner-up (the first runner-up had died in February) knew his widow well. I wrote three months later, and that cup is still in circulation. We had a similar situation in 2008, although that time the woman who died in possession of a cup was a widow and I had actually met her son-in-law once during his term as mayor. Again fortunately one of her partners was a friend of the family.

I did consider just replacing a cup, but it didn't strike me that it would be the sort of thing a relation would be eager to keep. Both times I did mention that any relative who wished to do so would be more than welcome to make the presentation to the next winner, but understandably noone chose to take up the opportunity. Still, even given that they were temporary prizes, I waited a decent interval in both cases and was easily able to write a sincere letter of condolence.

LW3 seems to be a twit of the first order. The book had better be as expensive as the first edition Diane buys on *Cheers* with money she borrows from Sam, despite his unhappy history with lending money. When he gets upset, she gives him the book, which he starts to read, only unhappily dropping it into his full bathtub.

I have two Christie parallels. The two girls remind me of Verity Hunt and Nora Broad in *Nemesis*. Verity, described by her headmistress as a shining girl despite her not possessing any outstanding easily-observed qualities, lives with a devoted guardian and goes missing shortly after becoming engaged to an unsuitable young man. Nora, a friend of Verity's who'd probably given her hints about men, is then taken up by Verity's guardian. Miss Bradbury-Scott tries to make up for Nora's deficient education and give her an interest in something other than the opposite sex, but soon after Nora leaves home and is never heard from again. Presently Miss B-S identifies the disfigured body of a murdered girl as that of Verity. Both girls end up dead.

LW3 also reminds me of Elvira Blake in *At Bertram's Hotel*, only she's perhaps a little less resourceful. Elvira pursues her mother's lover, discovers that her parents' marriage was bigamous, shoplifts and later returns a ruby necklace to finance an emergency flight to Ireland, discovers the amount of the fortune held in trust for her, juggles collapsing alibis, murders her mother's never-divorced first husband because she erroneously fears the bigamous marriage will invalidate her inheritance, makes up attempts on her life out of nothing, and might get away with it in the end when her mother confesses to the murder and then commits suicide in a daredevil feat of driving.

As it genuinely seems never to have entered LW3's head that she is very probably the last person her friend's parents want to see, let alone that they probably blame her (and how rightly so could easily be established) for the accident, I have nothing to say to her. She could send them something with a note expressing clearly unnecessary guilt, and maybe then they might send her a kind reply. But that's all I have to say to her.

Moral: A little knowledge, especially of the law, is a dangerous thing. Always be sure that a murder is absolutely necessary before committing one.

L4: Now we could stay with *At Bertram's Hotel* and take Mickey Gorman, that veteran-turned-doorman who got the job through his medals. But as LW4's husband has a wound apparently sustained in war, he seems most closely comparable to Jerry Burton in *The Moving Finger*, who has to cope with mistaken impressions about the cause and nature of his injuries from a plane crash. He ends up marrying the most interested of his new neighbours. I have long liked *TMF* for its central question of why the one beautiful young woman is practically the only person in the village who has not received a foul anonymous letter when normally she'd be the first target.

I'm not entirely sure why L4 is a problem. Does LW4, her husband or both of them particularly disapprove of the war in Iraq? That might make for some awkwardness. But I am sure he is entitled to explain or not explain whatever he likes. He can always consider any overreaching thanks as something he accepts on behalf of those who are, sadly, not around to accept it.

Moral: When cribbing anonymous letters as a smokescreen for a crime, always be as careful in the selection of the non-recipients as in the selection of the recipients.


  1. The morals of the stories make the advice even clearer.

  2. Oh great Detector Hrumpole,
    Sound advice and sound conclusions. I particularly will keep in mind not to commit a muder unless absolutely necessary. Oh, and I love your comment about a TV series on that legal office!

  3. Greetings, hrumpole! Regarding The French Open, I've always found the clay surface interesting. I'm not an active viewer of professional tennis, but certainly have paid it passing, although interested, attention and have noticed over the years (perhaps erroneously) that the world's topmost players typically do not win in Paris. I have always chalked this up to the clay surface and wonder why a tournament considered to be one of the crown jewels of the sport is played on a surface that is entirely different from the surface played on for the entire rest of the season? This setup seems to lend itself to unpredictable results that don't really reflect the game's best players, but rather the best players on that surface. Am I out to lunch in this thought? Has it ever been discussed?

    As for the letter writers, I had similar advice for LW#2. Seems to me that a slow disproving of the father's accusations by living a good and admirable life would be the far better strategy. I fear she'll not follow that advice, but I doubt she can do any better than what you've suggested for her. Here's hoping that she hears you.

    Good cheer! :-)

  4. Aargh - I just spent two hours explaining tennis, and the site ate my post. I am too dispirited to write it all out again. Think of it more along the lines of an extra challenge, the way the US Open in golf puts a premium on hitting fairways and greens and making pars, or the way the British Open has particularly perilous bunkers. Also, while there used to be many specialists on both clay and grass, grass court tennis has declined in frequency and changed in nature.

    Sorry I can't repost in full glory.