Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Unlikely Crooks in Jane Shaw: Miss Frame

Jane Shaw’s stories are studded with improbable criminals, people who seem to be perfectly above board and yet turn out to be rascals. There are the smugglers that pop up in Bernese Adventure, Crooks Tour and Sarah’s Adventure. There is the schoolmaster, Mr. Port, in Threepenny Bit, the elderly and mild-mannered Mr. Runciman in Crooked Sixpence and the “unspeakable” Dr. Partridge in New House at Northmead. The Susan series also has its fair share of unlikely crooks. The first one we meet is the petite middle-class culture vulture Miss Pershore in Susan Pulls the Strings; and a few others crop up along the way. Susan Muddles Through has an unlikely defector to the U.S.S.R., and Where is Susan? has Miss Smith, the beautiful but unscrupulous stamp collector. But none of these come anywhere as near to surprising the reader as Miss Frame when she is unmasked as the Mad Collector in in Susan’s Helping Hand. In this multi-layered story, one of the subplots is that someone is entering houses on wealthy country estates in Kent and helping themselves to valuable Elizabethan manuscripts. The latest victim, as the story gets under way, is Miss Folding, who had a priceless letter written by William Shakespeare. The press dub this thief the Mad Collector, mad because there is no way that these documents can be negotiated on the open market. The mystery deepens when it is discovered that rather than a master criminal plotting his thefts with infinite planning and military precision, the Mad Collector simply rides up to the mansions on a bicycle, helps himself and casually cycles away. When Bill comes across the letter tucked into the frame of a map from Miss Frame’s modest little antique shop, the children suspect her helper and distant cousin, Mr. Smith. But in the end, Miss Frame herself turns out to be the thief. This is very surprising because she is a very tiny and very old lady, described as having silver hair, a pink and white complexion and a “bird-like way”. Susan and the Carmichaels nickname her the Dresden shepherdess. Her attempt at a getaway after her unmasking is as dramatic as her appearance. Rather than speed away in a car or hijack a lorry, she hobbles up to the bus stop. Miss Frame is the most memorable of Jane Shaw’s unlikely crooks.

Quote of the Day

"This washing-up and going out for walks while the grown-ups have forty winks rather takes the gilt off the gingerbread," murmured Midge, but nobody took any notice of her. And Chang went with them for the walk, which made it more interesting, for they kept on having to rescue him from trees and dogs and other people's gardens, and consequently could go neither fast nor far.

From SUSAN PULLS THE STRINGS, Chapter 4, A Blow for Bill.