Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Tuesday Night Bloggers: Colour Scheme

The Tuesday Night Bloggers is the brain-child of Curtis at The Passing Tramp. It's a weekly gathering of like-minded folk to discuss a mystery author from the Golden Age of Detection. We began our meetings with the Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie, moved on to Ellery Queen in November, and now we'll be focusing on Ngaio Marsh for the remainder of 2016. December meetings of the TNB Club will be hosted by Moira Redmond over at her delightful blog, Clothes in Books, so feel free to join the party at her place. 
As I mentioned last week the holidays (and a last-ditch effort to complete ALL the challenges I signed up for) are playing havoc with my Marsh posts. I haven't been able to focus my thoughts on Marsh in quite the same way as I did with Christie (or is that "marshal" my thoughts"?). So fewer broad theme posts and more revisiting of old reviews. This time round, I'm focusing on one of my least favorite Marsh novels. We could subtitle my review: In Which I Disagree With Noah. ;-) I'm sure he won't mind. After all, it's the differences of opinion that make things interesting.
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, uses England and more specifically, London, as the background. 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 big 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--and it seems longer than usual for Marsh. 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. 

It's been a very long time since I read Died in the Wool, but I remember it much more fondly than this one. And would recommend it before Colour Scheme if you want to read a book set in Marsh's homeland.


Anonymous said...

(smiling) Well, I think I'm pleased that the prospect of disagreeing with me is a difficult one!! But I'm sure you know that I think everyone's entitled to their opinion and yours is sensibly based ... you liked the romance of Dikkon and Barbara and I didn't, and I liked the long lead up and you didn't, and we both liked the descriptions of Maori culture and New Zealand. I think the World War 2 material is a bit hard to take; after reading dozens of the same espionage plot, I think it must have been much more interesting to readers at the time than it is now.

Clothes In Books said...

I feel like you - I'm doing specific posts on specific books rather than an overview on Marsh - I'm not sure how good I'd be on overviews of some of the others on the list too, but I think that's fine! A variety of different kinds of posts is good.

As it happens I loved Colour Scheme - I thought the setting was so well described, I could picture the horrible spa hotel so well, and I really enjoyed the travelling actors, and found the whole book very funny. But different books appeal to different people - that's one of the things making the Tuesday Night Club so enjoyable.

Bev Hankins said...

Noah, I knew you wouldn't mind. But I did have to poke just a little. :-)