Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Colour Scheme: Review

Colour Scheme (1943) is one of the smaller number of detective novels that Ngaio Marsh set in her home country, New Zealand. Most of her books, which feature Roderick Alleyn as her detective, are set in England. But a few, including Colour Scheme and Died in the Wool, take Inspector Alleyn away from his accustomed haunts.

This one is set during WW II at a small, privately owned health spa located on the coast of New Zealand's North Island. The spa features warm to hot mud and steam baths. Unfortunately, one of the members of the little community winds up taking a plunge in the more unhealthy boiling mud pools (in an area normally marked clearly by red flags). Was it an accident as it appears or did someone help Maurice Questing to his final mud bath? Unpleasant as the fellow was, it is a horrible death and, naturally, the local police must investigate. There are rumors of espionage, the raiding of ancient Maori burial grounds, underhanded dealings to take over the spa--possibly involving blackmail (or a similar hold)...plenty of motives to go around. There are also rumors that London's Chief Inspector Alleyn is in the neighborhood and taking an interest in spy activity.

I am, generally speaking, a huge fan of Ngaio Marsh and her Inspector Alleyn novels. However, I can't say that I'm a huge fan of this one. There is a very long lead up to the murder. There is an even longer lead up to the appearance of Alleyn. There isn't a whole lot of real investigation on the part of Alleyn. Questing is a very unlikeable character and, while, his death is horrible, I didn't have the usual enthusiasm to have his murderer caught....until the final motive was revealed, that is. I did enjoy reading about the Maori culture and it is obvious that this is Marsh's home ground when she writes of New Zealand and its inhabitants. It just isn't a true Alleyn book. I think I would have enjoyed the story more if he had been left out of it and she'd given us a straight mystery novel with home-grown detectives only. Redeeming characteristics: descriptions of Maori culture and New Zealand and the characters of Dikon Bell and Barbara Claire. The mystery itself isn't very difficult. I caught on to one of the major clues fairly early. But, again, handled as a straight-forward New Zealand mystery without Alleyn (or more to the point...his obvious absence from most of the book when you keep expecting him to appear) would have made the mystery far more engaging. Two stars out of five. [Actually finished 2/28/11]


Yvette said...

Yeah, Bev, didn't much cotton to this one either. I loved DIED IN THE WOOL which was also set in N.Z.

But this one was a bit on the slow side. I agree with your assessment. This could have been a much better book with just a few changes. Yes.

Bev Hankins said...

Died in the Wool is a much better book. I agree!