Friday, November 30, 2007

Overture to Death - Ngaio Marsh

First published 1939; cover shown is the 1944 Collins Crime Club (UK) paperback edition. 208p.

This is an interesting early Marsh paperback, printed in Australia during WWII on cheap wartime paper. The back cover features an advertisement for Wood's Great Peppermint Cure ("For Coughs and Colds, never fails").

The last Alleyn mystery I reviewed was Surfeit of Lamprey's (1941), in which the victim was killed by a skewer being rammed through one of his eyes. In Overture to Death Marsh again excels in delivering an unusual death.

This time a middle-aged parish spinster is shot through the head while playing a piece on the church piano, during a play put on before the entire village. The revolver had been hidden inside the piano, rigged to go off when the soft pedal was pushed.

Chief Detective Inspector Roderick Alleyn of Scotland Yard is called to the small village to investigate the crime, along with Detective-Inspector Fox. It is quickly learned that the other notable spinster in the parish - the decidedly unlikeable Miss Eleanor Prentice - was the actual intended victim, having decided not to play the piano just minutes before the curtain was raised, due to a sore finger.

Alleyn and Fox, joined by Alleyn's friend from Fleet Street, Nigel Bathgate, begin asking questions. They hear a number of interesting local gossip items, and suspicion falls in turn on the local squire and his son, the rector and his daughter, the local doctor and Mrs Ross, his mistress. Alleyn successfully recreates the dead woman's last days, resulting in the unveiling of the murderer at a Christie-esque meeting of all the suspects.

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