Rankin led the way out into a sunken country lane, where they found a group of three muffled passengers talking noisily while a chauffeur stowed luggage away into a six-seater Bentley…
Nigel had made his bow to Rosamund Grant, a tall dark woman whose strange uncompromising beauty it would be difficult to forget. Of the Hon Mrs Wilde he could see nothing but a pair of very large blue eyes and tip of an abbreviated nose. The eyes gave him a brief appraising glance, and a rather high-pitched ‘fashionable’ voice emerged from behind the enormous fur collar:
‘How do you do? Are you a relation of Charles? Too shattering for you…’
observations This is my book for Rich Westwood’s Crime of the Century meme over at his Past Offences blog: the year for June is 1934.
The fur coats are going to be significant, and not only because the investigation will also show up how many clothes a woman going on a weekend country house visit would bring with her – this is part of one woman’s travelling wardrobe:
‘Harris tweed coat and skirt, shepherd’s plaid overcoat. Burberry raincoat, blue. Black astrakhan overcoat, black fur collar and cuffs.’Later one character will ask another ‘if I were to kiss the fur on your collar, would you mind very much?’
This was Ngaio Marsh’s first crime novel, and it has some very traditional clues: a piece of fur caught on a railing is just one of them. And rather a traditional plot: disparate people assembled for the houseparty, a game of Murder which is going to get all too real. There is a ludicrous Russian plotline, and Inspector Alleyn is very annoying. It’s not a terrible story, but you would not have been betting on the author becoming a Queen of Crime and producing a considerable body of work.
The book has an uncertain tone, and the final exposition, where the murderer is revealed, is bizarre, I read it several times but it still didn’t make much sense – why did the person involved confess so suddenly?
1934 details – on a visit to a restaurant, Nigel has to sit at a table at the back because he is not in evening dress, and there is an implication that he and his partner can’t take to the dance-floor because not smartly enough dressed.
The country house has a vast number of servants, who are all treated with a great deal of disdain, when any interest is shown in them at all. I wouldn’t blame them if they’d risen up and committed the murder in a big gang. A dogskin glove (dropped by the murderer?) has a press button on it, which I eventually worked out to be what we would call a popper or press-stud.
It was hard to feel much sympathy for the victim, nor much disapproval for the killer.
I did wonder if Marsh was very familiar with the milieu she was describing. The houseparty was rather cartoonish, what with the tango-dancing, the de-bagging, and this authorial intervention:
‘Charles you’ll make me drunk,’ she announced. Why does a certain type of young woman think this remark unfailingly funny?The revered Inspector Alleyn – this is of course his first appearance – is described as having an Oxonian accent. I think she means Oxbridge – but I liked to think of him talking like either an Oxford city townie, or else a rustic yokel from the county of Oxfordshire.
I have recently been talking a lot about Martin Edwards’ marvellous The Golden Age of Murder. One of the aspects I haven’t mentioned to date has been his clever way with plots and solutions: there isn’t a word of a spoiler in his book, but he does discuss plots and solutions – just a long way (in page terms) from any mention of the title. This simple but brilliant trick means that anyone who has read that particular crime books knows exactly what he means, but no-one else has the plot spoiled – I was full of admiration.
And so at this point I would like to say to blog friends Noah Stewart and Daniel Milford Cottam: yes I got it…. They will know what I mean, but no-one else will...
Blogfriend Lucy Fisher has reviewed a number of Ngaio Marsh books on her blog The Art of Words, and lists all the books, with notes, on this page.
The ladies peering out from around their fur collars and cuffs are from Kristine’s photostream, and the date is 1932.