RogerBW's Blog

Hand In Glove, Ngaio Marsh 19 September 2017

1962 classic English detective fiction; twenty-second of Marsh's novels of Inspector Roderick Alleyn. Friction in a pair of country houses is the precursor to murder, but everything's tangled in the extreme.

This is the kind of murder in which everyone has a motive, and the victim doesn't seem to be of any great loss to anybody.

Alleyn was visited by the fleeting wish that he could run into somebody who at least pretended to have liked Mr. Cartell.

If one ignores the Young Lovers and the Most Obvious Suspect, there aren't very many potential murderers left.

But it's the setting and the people who are more interesting here. The elderly bachelor obsessed with class because he knows he's not quite the thing himself; the victim's unmarried sister, and particularly the horrible people she's taken up (her "adopted niece" and the latter's boyfriend). In fact it's that Mr Leiss who gets most of the colour in the book.

Young Mr. Leiss stared damply at Nicola and then shook hands--also damply. He was pallid and had large eyes, a full mouth and small chin. The sleeves of his violently checked jacket displayed an exotic amount of shirt-cuff and link. He smelt very strongly of hair oil. Apart from these features it would have been hard to say why he seemed untrustworthy.

It's a fairly timeless story, in large part because it feels as if it had been written for Marsh's favourite 1930s, and then wrenched down the decades with a scatter of mentions of "an association with a flick-knife gang" and television.

"Think they own the place, those chaps," the driver rejoined. "Putting the sewer up the side lane by Mr. Period's house, and what for? Nobody wants it."

Marsh is by this point in her career a master of structure, and carefully sets things up to elide the time between the discovery of the body (at the end of chapter 3) and Alleyn's having been summoned and brought up to date by the local man at the start of chapter 4. There's even time for a little bit of Troy.

Va gur raq V sbhaq fbzr bs gur fnzr frafr gung V trg sebz Qba Tvbinaav: gung gur byqre trarengvba ng yrnfg unir gur thzcgvba gb pbzzvg zheqre, juvyr gur lbhatre pna'g znantr fb pbapregrq na npgvba ohg vafgrnq zrff nebhaq jvgu fyrnml naq crggl pevzvanyvgl.

"Your ideas about what would be nice vary between a watertight capital charge and cold lamb with cucumber relish."

At this point I'm reading Marsh for the people more than the puzzles, and on that basis the book satisfies. Followed by Dead Water.

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