RogerBW's Blog

Grave Mistake, Ngaio Marsh 06 January 2018

1978 classic English detective fiction; thirtieth of Marsh's novels of Inspector Roderick Alleyn. The wealthy double-widow Sybil Foster apparently commits suicide while staying in a hotel for hypochondriacs. But this is not a story about suicide. vt A Grave Mistake.

In fact it's a village cosy, and really there's very little here that couldn't have happened in a 1930s book (there's a passing mention of motorways, and another of Concorde, neither being vital to the plot). There's a foreign millionaire, a supremely efficient gardener called Gardener, a ne'er-do-well stepson, an oily doctor, and all the usual cast.

"Of course, darling," she confided on the telephone one day, "there's lots of lovely lolly but you know me, that's not everything, and one doesn't know, does one, anything at all about the background. Crimpy hair and black eyes and large noses. Terribly good-looking, I grant you, like profiles on old pots, but what is one to think?" And sensing Verity's reaction to this observation she added hurriedly: "I don't mean what you mean, as you very well know."

I found this very light going; that's not necessarily a bad thing, and the difficulty of puzzle I want varies with my mood, but although there was some effort to throw suspicion elsewhere I felt it generally came to rest in the right place.

Claude Carter was one of those beings whose appearance accurately reflects their character. He looked, and in fact was, damp. He seemed unable to face anything or anybody. He was almost forty but maintained a rich crop of post-adolescent pimples. He had very little chin, furtive eyes behind heavy spectacles, a vestigial beard and mouse-coloured hair that hung damply, of course, halfway down his neck.

On the other hand the eventual motive didn't seem to fit with the psychology of the killer. Maybe it's just me. And there's one major piece of information given to the reader which the police don't get until much later, and that feels like cheating; sleuth and reader should have the same information, or at least the reader should have no more. A particular device (gur Boivbhf Fhfcrpg qvfnccrnef naq vf gubhtug gb unir syrq, ohg yngre gheaf hc qrnq) felt over-familiar. The device of a hugely valuable stamp, missing since the War, seemed rather forced.

The resident nurse was now called: Sister Jackson, an opulent lady of good looks, a highish colour and an air of latent sexiness, damped down, Verity thought, to suit the occasion.

The viewpoint opens with Verity Preston, a single lady playwright of mature years, and there's a sub-plot which involves her… and fades out to nothing without anything like a resolution. I was rather disappointed by that, and by the complete escape of someone who's not the killer but is clearly still a villain.

To Alleyn it seemed that there were traits held in common by men who, in Victorian times, were called lady-killers: a display, covert or open, of sexual vainglory that sometimes, not always, made less heavily endowed acquaintances want, they scarcely knew why, to kick the possessors.

It's all right; it's average Marsh, which puts it ahead of many. But it's not top-rate Marsh. Followed by Photo Finish.

[Buy this at Amazon] and help support the blog.

Add A Comment

Your Name
Your Email
Your Comment

Your submission will be ignored if any field is left blank, but your email address will not be displayed. Comments will be processed through markdown.

Search
Archive
Tags 1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s 2010s 3d printing action aeronautics aikakirja anecdote animation anime army astronomy audio tech base commerce battletech beer boardgaming bookmonth chain of command children chronicle church of no redeeming virtues cold war comedy computing contemporary cornish smuggler cosmic encounter coup cycling dead of winter doctor who documentary drama driving drone ecchi espionage essen 2015 essen 2016 essen 2017 existential risk falklands war fandom fantasy film firefly first world war flash point food garmin drive gazebo geodata gurps gurps 101 harpoon historical history horror hugo 2014 hugo 2015 hugo 2016 hugo 2017 hugo-nebula reread in brief avoid instrumented life kickstarter learn to play leaving earth linux mecha museum mystery naval non-fiction one for the brow opera perl photography podcast politics powers prediction privacy project woolsack pyracantha quantum rail ranting raspberry pi reading reading boardgames social real life restaurant reviews romance rpg a day rpgs science fiction scythe second world war security shipwreck simutrans south atlantic war squaddies stationery steampunk stuarts suburbia superheroes suspense television the resistance thirsty meeples thriller tin soldier torg toys trailers travel vietnam war war wargaming weather wives and sweethearts writing about writing x-wing young adult
Special All book reviews, All film reviews
Produced by aikakirja v0.1