By Ngaio Marsh
First published: US, Little, Brown, 1962; UK, Collins, 1962
My dear: What can I say?…I know so well, believe me so very well, what a grievous shock this has been for you and how bravely you will have taken it…
Thus ran a letter of condolence from Mr. Pyke Period, who was celebrated for his fluency in the contrivance of these mournful epistles.
It was in Mr. Pyke Period’s house that a somewhat bizarre company gathered for lunch shortly before violent death (not much softened by the condolences of Mr. Pyke Period) came to Little Codling. To investigate the murder Superintendent Roderick Alleyn and Inspector Fox of the CID quickly appeared in the village.
Ngaio Marsh’s crime novels are famous; her readers are legion. The craftsmanship that can combine brilliant characterisation, spectacular events and a baffling problem is at work here to the same great effect as in such well-known books as Artists in Crime, Surfeit of Lampreys, Off with his Head and False Scent.
Solid and well constructed, but lacks any imaginative spark. The murder is pretty drab – middle-aged lawyer found dead in a ditch, crushed by a drainpipe, which is pretty banal. Marsh’s murders are normally spectacular and pretty gruesome – crushed by magnum of champagne (Vintage Murder), exploding piano (Overture to Death), skewered through the eye (Surfeit of Lampreys) or drowned in boiling mud pool (Colour Scheme). The plot is also pretty average – it’s not very complex, and doesn’t have one of Marsh’s usual highly complicated movement schedules, or many complex clues. Characterisation is OK – Mr Pyke Period is a good character, but the Bantlings seem like a weaker version of the Lampreys or the family in Swing, Brother, Swing. The solution’s also very similar to Final Curtain.
Times Literary Supplement (Philip John Stead, 12th October 1962):
Superintendent Alleyn and Inspector Fox are sent into the country to look into the death of a somewhat troublesome old gentleman. Alleyn’s nicely compounded personality and intellect and Fox’s comfortable guile find themselves in a delicious maze of suspects, mostly of the non-conforming and eccentric kind. A high-spirited and craftsmanlike inquiry takes place, pleasantly interwoven with the agreeable courtship of two young people. This is a polished example of the British detective story, written with a keen sense of the rigour of the game.