Saturday, January 26, 2008

Enter a Murderer - Ngaio Marsh

First published 1935; cover shown is the 1968 third impression paperback by Fontana Books (UK). 191p.

I started reading Enter a Murderer on January 8, and only just finished it today - some 18 days later. Definitely a record! It wasn't that it was boring, although it certainly wasn't gripping. Life got in the way mostly, and for the first time in years three or four days would go by without me feeling any desire at all to pick up a book.

Enter a Murderer is set in Marsh's beloved world of the theatre. Chief Detective-Inspector Roderick Alleyn is invited to a showing of 'The Rat and the Beaver' at the Unicorn Theatre, by his Fleet Street friend and some-time helper Nigel Bathgate. A shooting takes place in the last act, but this time the acting is more authentic than usual; the dummy cartridges have been replaced by real ones, and an unlikeable actor by the name of Arthur Surbonadier lies dead on the stage.

Alleyn takes charge at once, confining the actors to their dressing rooms and calling in reinforcements - including Detective Fox, who in later novels will become one of my favourite characters (in these earlier novels he's rather undeveloped compared to Alleyn). Bathgate is allowed to remain, hiding behind scenery while taking notes for Alleyn. At first it seems there are numerous suspects, including Felix Gardener, the actor who shot Surbonadier in the play, and Stephanie Vaughan, who Alleyn falls for momentarily.

As Alleyn's painstaking investigations continue, another murder occurs, and suddenly the suspect pool has shrunk. A dramatic restaging of the last act by the entire cast a number of days after the original killing is the definite highlight of the story. However, a
shocking editing job was a big letdown for me; it seemed that each page had at least one grammatical error or an obviously incorrect word was substituted for another.

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