An English theatre company are touring New Zealand, and the manager of the company, who just happens to be married to the leading lady, wants to put on a surprise for her birthday. With the use of a few ropes and pulleys, the celebrations will climax with a jereboam of champagne floating gently down from the rafters into the party on the stage. Only due to someone fiddling with the counterweight, it falls rather more rapidly and smashes his head in…
Luckily the touring company has acquired a friend while on tour, namely Detective Inspector Roderick Alleyn, visiting New Zealand while on holiday. All he wanted was a bit of peace and quiet but he finds himself investigating “a squalid and tedious crime” – his words, not mine!
Another #1937book Crimes Of The Century book for me and I thought it was time to return to Dame Ngaio. Let’s face it, my previous outings with the so-called Queen of Crime haven’t gone well. Generally speaking, the set-ups have been strong, but interest dies away rapidly once the murder takes place and I’ve spotted the killer every time. But Stella Duffy waxed lyrically about this New Zealand-set one at the Bodies In The Library last year, so I thought, why not? This is the ideal book to jumpstart my Marsh appreciation.
Duffy’s main point of interest in the talk was in Marsh’s imagery and there are some lovely descriptive sections when Alleyn is all-too-briefly out of the theatre, talking about the New Zealand countryside, the Maori culture… it’s enough to make you want to go and visit.
You know what’s coming, though, don’t you?
The mystery is distinctly lacking in appeal. The investigation is basically one long series of interviews based on who has or hasn’t an alibi for various aspects of the crime, and the characters being interviewed aren’t desperately interesting – and neither are the interviewers, come to that. Anyone who’s read a few mysteries will spot something crucial about the crime, but it would take an aficionado with a notebook and a map of the theatre to work out the exact “how” of the crime. But I’d be impressed with anyone who really cared by that point… It reminded me of the so-called railway timetable mysteries, working out who could be where and at what time. Proceed With Caution was somewhat similar, but that had me gripped. Something about Marsh’s writing just doesn’t work for me.
It feels… artificial. The times that we are privy to someone’s – usually Alleyn’s – thoughts are quite jarring and people don’t seem to talk like human beings. There’s a line that tries to justify this by referring to the fact that that’s how theatre types speak, but it doesn’t convince.
Oh, and Marsh spoils the murderer (several times) of Enter A Murderer. Apparently that case was so famous that everyone (and I mean everyone) has heard of Alleyn, even to the extent of knowing him as “The Handsome Inspector” – a description that occurs a few times.
Anyway, Alleyn summed it up nicely. It made not be “squalid” but this book is certainly “a tedious crime”. Apologies to the Marshmen and Marshwomen out there – and I’d actively encourage you to defend this book to me – but this might be the last try for Marsh for me. Recommended as a cure for insomnia only…