Peregrine Jay, a playwright and director, cannot resist exploring the ruins of the Dolphin Theatre but almost falls to his death, only to be saved by a mysterious millionaire – the owner of the building who was planning to demolish it. But inspired by Jay – and the discovery of a glove that may have belonged to Shakespeare’s son – he decides to renovate the theatre and puts Jay in charge. Months later, the theatre is ready to open with a play inspired by the glove and the valuable artefact itself on display.
Needless to say, things don’t go as planned. The glove is stolen and a man lies dead. Luckily Inspector Roderick Alleyn is soon on the scene…
I’ve had issues with Ngaio Marsh in the past. Basically, I find her work dull, with some interesting set-ups but once the investigation kicks off, the books go downhill, as the personality-free Alleyn plods his way through an uninspiring mystery. So why have I come back?
Well, there’s the ongoing question as to why she’s so popular. I’ve said before how when I suggested at last year’s Bodies From The Library conference that Marsh didn’t deserve her title as one of the Queens of Crime, it didn’t go down too well with the audience. Although that may have been the suggestion that Gladys Mitchell took her place that may have caused part of the reaction… But one of the talks this year is from Stella Duffy on Theatricality in Ngaio Marsh, so I thought I’d better take a look at one of her theatre books.
So what do others think of this book? From the cover quotes:
PUNCH: “A really marvellous Marsh”.
THE SUNDAY TIMES: “A first-rate book… exceptional richness in characterisation, background and humour. Don’t miss it on any account.”
And the author? According to The Sun – “The finest writer in English of the classical puzzle whodunit”
Yeah – just read that last one again. The finest writer in English of the classical puzzle whodunit. This edition as published after Marsh’s death, so you can’t imply a hidden “living” into that sentence. So goodness only knows what that journalist was smoking that day. Oh, and the comments about the book are b@ll@cks too…
This is dull. Deathly dull. By the end of the book, I just didn’t give a flying monkey’s whodunit. So unimpressive, I simply can’t be bothered to say anything else about it. One to avoid.
UPDATE: Rightly or wrongly, I feel that I need to write a little more on this one. The first few comments quite clearly disagree with my rather blunt sentiments, so I thought I’d lay out my issues with the book in a little more detail – without spoilers, obviously.
The book starts promisingly, with the opening sections with Peregrine in the theatre and subsequently meeting his benefactor being intriguing. Sadly this intrigue sags until the murder happens, as the actors are, as a whole, a rather dull, predictable bunch. In other Marsh books, the pre-murder section is usually the strongest, but there’s a notable lack of tension leading up to the crime, which, at the end of the day, feels rather small. As the victim seems to be dead simply as they were in the way, I found it hard to muster up much enthusiasm for the mystery.
Once Alleyn and Fox turn up (without those nicknames, thankfully), things plod their way to the conclusion, but at times you almost forget that they’re there. I wonder – was this planned as a non-series novel at one point? There also seems to be more interest from the writer on a certain sub-plot than the crime itself – her efforts on those sections are certainly more gripping that the revelation of the murderer, which just seems to involve parading possible suspects past a witness.
Why was I so blunt about it in the first version of the review? Crushing disappointment, really.There are so many fans of her out there that I do feel that I’m missing something. Why is she mentioned in the same breath as Dame Agatha? Sayers and Allingham write in a notably different style to Christie, but Marsh, in my eyes at least, writes the same style of mystery so comparisons are inevitable, and to me, she inevitably comes up short. But the reason I keep coming back to her is to try and see why others seem to enjoy her so much – but this clearly wasn’t the book to do it.