Friday, November 16, 2007

Surfeit of Lampreys - Ngaio Marsh

First published 1941; cover shown is the 1955 Penguin Books (UK) paperback edition. #1100. 303p.

Lord and Lady Lamprey and their brood of six children live a hand to mouth existence, but they do it in style. Financial ruin seems to lurk around every corner, yet still they live in a mansion in the wilds of New Zealand and employ a full staff. Later they return to their home country of England, living a more subdued life in an adjoining pair of upmarket London flats.

When Roberta Grey, a New Zealander who spent much of her youth with the Lampreys, arrives in London to visit for a month or so, she realises quickly that the most recent financial crisis may be the worst yet. The only hope is Lord Lamprey's elder brother, the current Marquis of Wutherford and Rune. He has helped them pay their debts in the past, and fingers crossed he'll do it once more.

The Marquis' visit to the Lamprey's - along with his black magic practising wife, Violet - starts badly and gets worse. Not only does he refuse to hand over any money to his brother, he then gets himself murdered in the lift on the way out. The killer can only be one of the family, or Roberta, or one of the servants. Enter Chief Detective-Inspector Roderick Alleyn of Scotland Yard, and his sidekick Detective-Inspector Fox.

Most murders in "cosy" mysteries are neat and relatively blood free, with poisonings and shootings topping the list. This time Marsh goes with something different. The Marquis is found with a long skewer rammed through one eye, into his brain. The fact that he lives for another hour or so makes it worse, not to forget the "disgusting gargling sounds" he makes. When he finally does die, Alleyn's investigation begins.

The conversations and antics of the Lamprey family are highly entertaining (often laugh-out-loud funny), and Roberta's quiet musings sprinkled throughout the story make the perfect foil for this. Alleyn and Fox are again brilliant in their roles. As for the killer's identity, I didn't come close to guessing correctly, thanks to some skillful plot twists from Marsh.


Anonymous said...

Hello Kay, I hope all is well, I've not read this book but have listened to it on audio and like you completely clueless when it came to the guilty party. I have recently come across books written by David Roberts, and although these are 21st century publications the mysteries are set in the 1930s and have been likened to the Dorothy L Sayers Lord Peter Wimsey books. What does Kangaroo taste like? If you are unsure ask Bean.
I enjoyed Cards on the table in as much as once again clueless to the murderers identity.
Thankyou for your blog from England. PS.... it's snowing tonight for the first time this winter, my daughter Chelsey is hoping for no school tomorrow.

The Face at the Window said...

Phil ~ Glad to hear it wasn't just me who was clueless! I've made a note of David Roberts and will try one of his novels when I come across one.
Kangaroo meat has a strong, distinctive taste - I wouldn't want to eat too much of it in one go. Bean doesn't seem to mind though.
Snowing! We're expecting 37 degrees celsius here today, so some snow would be nice! I hope your daughter managed to get her day off... All the best, Kay