Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Death at the Bar: Review

Death at the Bar by Ngaio Marsh is a "reread" for me.  Reread is in quotes because I actually listened to it this time.  Our local library had clear out of all their books on tape about this time last year and I scooped up this 8-cassette rendition read by James Saxon.  Saxon, by the way is terrific to listen to.  He manages to give all of the characters their own distinct voice (although I think it was a good thing that there were only two ladies--one of whom had a nice Irish brogue). I am not, generally speaking, an audio-book kind of reader.  Not that I have anything against them, I just process the books much better in print (particularly on a first go-round).  But when faced with a weekend trip in the middle of a read-a-thon I thought listening would be a great way to stay on track for the 'thon.  And as mentioned I thoroughly enjoyed Saxon as the reader.

But down to cases:  Attorney, Luke Watchman is headed to Devon and the Plume of Feathers pub for an annual holiday with his cousin Sebastian Parish and his friend Noman Cubitt.  On the way there he has a minor mishap with another motorist.  Watchman jumps out of his car to berate the other man on his driving habits and the driver mutters an apology at him and tries to avoid being seen clearly. Watchman is somewhat mollified, but gets the impression that he might know the other man and that the driver definitely doesn't want to be seen by him.

Watchman arrives at the Feathers and once settled he meets up with Parish and Cubitt in the private bar--where he regales them with the tale of his accident and his impressions of the other man. The other man is none other than Robert Legge--a fellow guest of the pub and a man who has been sitting in a secluded part of the bar.  Watchman tries to engage him in conversation, but it is clear that Legge does not want to be sociable.

During the course of the evening it is revealed that Legge is a "masterpiece" with the darts and can do all sorts of tricks with the darts and board--from playing Round the Clock (hitting point sections in order) to a circus-type move where he can outline a person's hand with darts.  Watchman doubts his skill--challenging him to repeat exactly a set of dart moves from the previous evening (and losing money on the bet) and then a game of Round the Clock, but shying away from presenting his hand for the circus trick.  The next evening Watchman changes his mind and says that if Legge can beat him at Round the Clock again, then he will let Legge do his dart and hand trick with him--he figures the worst that can happen is a prick from the dart and he's gotten a bit of courage from the brandy bottle produced by the proprietor.  

He would be wrong...by the end of the night Watchman is dead and a trace of cyanide found on the dart.  There was plenty of the stuff about the place--Abel Pomeroy, the pub owner, had been using the deadly poison to dispose of rats.  Someone decided to use it to dispose of Watchman.  But who?  The obvious person is Legge because he threw the dart.  But there are several witnesses to swear that he could not possibly have smeared poison on the instrument.  When Inspector Roderick Alleyn and Detective Sergeant Fox arrive to assist the local constabulary, they find all sorts of motives lurking about--there's Decima Moore and her boyfriend, Will Pomeroy who differ on politics and who don't appreciate Watchman's attentions to the lovely Decima; Parish and Cubitt are legatees under Watchman's will; and there are a couple of people who had dealings with Watchman in court.  The difficulty is that those with the most motive seem to have the least opportunity.  Fox will get a taste of poison himself (and be saved by Alleyn) before they can bring the crime home to the culprit.

The last time I read this one Marsh fooled me. She did it again and (this is embarrassing) I'm pretty sure she fooled me in the same way. I latched onto a particular character and,  just as one of the characters kept bleating on about how Abel Pomeroy has tried to poison them all (he hasn't), I could not get that character out of my head as the villain of the piece.  Marsh managed to force the clues on me and I still missed them.  I thoroughly enjoyed having the wool pulled over my eyes.  Four stars.

 

3 comments:

Steve Barge said...

Damn. Maybe I need to give Marsh yet another try with this one... She's failed to impress me three times so far but you might have convinced me to give her yet another try. One day...

Bev Hankins said...

Steve...I hope if you do that it goes down well. I may just be susceptible to Marsh and her ways. But I do like this one--and Death in a White Tie (which is probably my favorite).

Ryan said...

I keep meaning to pick up the first book, but I haven't done so yet. This one sounds fun, as I like the dart angle.