First published 1938; cover shown is the 1987 Fontana (UK) paperback impression. Cover artist uncredited. 256p.
There were two reasons I was looking forward to reading this early Marsh mystery. One, it's an early Marsh mystery. Two, it's the novel in which Alleyn meets the painter Agatha Troy, later to be his wife. Alleyn has become my favourite mystery protagonist, and I was relieved to find that I liked Troy just as much. Alleyn deserves the best... and yes, I may very well have my first crush on a fictional character. How embarrassing!
The story itself is excellent, with two horrific murders, a cast of interesting characters, the usual highly entertaining conversations between Alleyn, Fox and Nigel Bathgate, and enough clues given out along the way so I didn't feel cheated when the killer (who I'd correctly guessed - for once) was unveiled. I was a little disturbed by Marsh's portrayal of an Australian character; no Aussie really says 'cobber' or 'dinkum' - even if it was 1938.
The first murder - that of a vain, man-hungry nude model - occurs in Troy's artist studio. The studio was filled with art students, and there are no shortage of suspects, but the death leaves Alleyn in an untenable position. For the first time he finds that his mind is not wholly on the case, with thoughts of Troy and concern over the way the case is affecting his chances with her overwhelming him at times.
However, Alleyn is nothing if not competent, and the usual statement taking and alibi checking soon uncover new leads and the second murder - quite a nasty, interesting one. It only takes one or two more days for Alleyn and Fox to collect enough proof for an arrest, and then Alleyn is left with the task of finding out if his feelings are reciprocated...