RogerBW's Blog

Swing Brother Swing, Ngaio Marsh 01 May 2017

1949 classic English detective fiction; fifteenth of Marsh's novels of Inspector Roderick Alleyn. Lord Pastern and Bagott, sitting in on the drums in a jazz band, has set up a bit of business where he "shoots" the piano-accordionist, Carlos Rivera, who falls down and is carried off stage. But Rivera's made himself offensive to everyone, and he's not going to be getting up again. US vt A Wreath for Rivera.

The toff who wants to have a go on the drums seems to have been a persistent idea in British jazz, as memorably parodied in the 1980s by Andy Leggett and Henry Davies. Here he's talked himself into a gig with the band, and is clearly aiming for a permanent position… but he's been having enthusiasms for years, and nobody but him expects that this will last any longer than the others.

"Your uncle," Lady Pastern continued, "has, during the last sixteen years, made periodic attempts to introduce prayer-wheels, brass Buddhas, a totem-pole, and the worst excesses of the surrealists. I have withstood them all. On one occasion I reduced to molten silver an image of some Aztec deity. Your uncle purchased it in Mexico City. Apart from its repellent appearance I had every reason to believe it spurious."

…and that's one of the few things going on that isn't a motivation for Rivera's murder.

'He was ripe for bumping off, was Mr Rivera.'

The victim is aiming to marry the Lord's step-daughter, he makes himself profoundly offensive to everyone at a dinner before the show, he's at outs with his fellow musicians, and one does rather start to wonder what Félicité could ever have seen in him.

His lightest remark was pronounced with such a killing air that it immediately assumed the character of an impropriety.

This is definitely an "everyone hated him" sort of mystery, though the build-up to the death was more satisfying for me than the investigation and resolution. Lord Pastern does his best to look guilty (for reasons that never become entirely apparent), everyone else does their not-very-good best to look innocent, and all sorts of tangles (including a newspaper's Agony Uncle with whom several of the suspects seem to have had correspondence) will end up being cut away to get at the murderer.

'George,' Félicité whispered fiercely, 'do you want to do us in?'

'I want the truth,' her stepfather shouted crossly. 'I was a Theosophist, once,' he added.

'You are and have been and always will be an imbecile,' said his wife, shutting her lorgnette.

I found myself wondering about one particular test that would surely have suggested itself, the result of which would have made obvious the answer to a particular question that was, oh dear, carefully not being asked and turned out to be quite important. But this is the main shortcoming in an investigation that otherwise works well.

There is a romance of sorts; it's very clearly signposted and carefully set up with a Big Misunderstanding, but just as one thinks it's about to get its dénouement the book ends. Nobody else is a particularly sympathetic character, and it's a shame this resolution had to be omitted.

Alleyn is almost peripheral to his own investigation, though Inspector Fox has more of a role, and we do get a brief bit of Troy as Alleyn and Fox go back to Alleyn's after the night of the murder to get a couple of hours' sleep before the business of the next day.

As for the music itself, it's clear that Marsh doesn't have much time for this degenerate modern stuff, though it seems that another cliché of the jazz world also has roots at least this old:

A young woman in a beautiful dress and with hair like blonde seaweed came out of a side door and stood in the spotlight, twisting a length of scarlet chiffon in her hands. She contemplated her audience as if she was a sort of willing sacrifice and began to moo very earnestly: 'Yeoo knee-oo it was onlee summer lightning.' Carlisle and Edward both detested her.

Followed by Opening Night.

[Buy this at Amazon] and help support the blog. ["As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases."]

Previous in series: Final Curtain | Series: Roderick Alleyn | Next in series: Opening Night

Comments on this post are now closed. If you have particular grounds for adding a late comment, comment on a more recent post quoting the URL of this one.

Tags 1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s 2010s 3d printing action advent of code aeronautics aikakirja anecdote animation anime army astronomy audio audio tech aviation base commerce battletech beer boardgaming book of the week bookmonth chain of command children chris chronicle church of no redeeming virtues cold war comedy computing contemporary cornish smuggler cosmic encounter coup covid-19 crime crystal cthulhu eternal cycling dead of winter doctor who documentary drama driving drone ecchi economics en garde espionage essen 2015 essen 2016 essen 2017 essen 2018 essen 2019 essen 2022 essen 2023 existential risk falklands war fandom fanfic fantasy feminism film firefly first world war flash point flight simulation food garmin drive gazebo genesys geocaching geodata gin gkp gurps gurps 101 gus harpoon historical history horror hugo 2014 hugo 2015 hugo 2016 hugo 2017 hugo 2018 hugo 2019 hugo 2020 hugo 2021 hugo 2022 hugo 2023 hugo 2024 hugo-nebula reread in brief avoid instrumented life javascript julian simpson julie enfield kickstarter kotlin learn to play leaving earth linux liquor lovecraftiana lua mecha men with beards mpd museum music mystery naval noir non-fiction one for the brow opera parody paul temple perl perl weekly challenge photography podcast politics postscript powers prediction privacy project woolsack pyracantha python quantum rail raku ranting raspberry pi reading reading boardgames social real life restaurant reviews romance rpg a day rpgs ruby rust scala science fiction scythe second world war security shipwreck simutrans smartphone south atlantic war squaddies stationery steampunk stuarts suburbia superheroes suspense television the resistance the weekly challenge thirsty meeples thriller tin soldier torg toys trailers travel type 26 type 31 type 45 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