Monday, February 12, 2018
Enter a Murderer: Review
Alleyn and Bailey were on their knees by the prompt box. Bailey was busy with an insufflator and the inspector seemed to be peering at the floor through a magnifying glass. Beside him, opened, was the bag they had brought him from the Yard. Nigel looked into it and saw a neat collection of objects, among which he distinguished magnifying glasses, tape, scissors, soap, a towel, an electric torch, rubber gloves, sealing wax, and a pair of handcuffs.
"What are you doing?" asked Nigel.
"Being a detective. Can't you see?"
Before I begin my review of Ngaio Marsh's Enter a Murderer (1935) in earnest, I just have to express my delight in discovering this edition which has a beaver right there on the cover. I'd completely forgotten that the play which features in this mystery set in a theater was titled The Rat & the Beaver (after all, it had been over 30 years since I first checked this book out of my home town library). So, when I signed up for the Ngaio Marsh Challenge (requiring us to ready the first 12 Alleyn books) and I ordered up the novels I didn't yet own, I didn't expect to see my favorite mammal. [I collect beavers--figurines, Christmas ornaments, books about, etc. Long story which involves the fact that my first name means "beaver meadow."]
So--back to the review. Inspector Roderick Alleyn's journalist pal Nigel Bathgate is friends with Felix Gardener, leading man in the up-and-coming London play The Rat & the Beaver. Felix gives Nigel two tickets to a second week performance and, since Nigel's best girl is out of town, the journalist decides to ask Alleyn if he'd like to join him. In the play, Gardener plays the Rat who "shoots" his fellow actor Arthur Surbonadier (aka the Beaver). The gun is normally loaded with dummies--not just blanks, because the shooting takes place at close range and would still ruin Surbonadier's costume. But tonight--somebody has replaced the dummies with the real thing and Surbonadier's death scene becomes the final performance of his life.
Off-stage, Surbonadier is the nephew of the theatre owner, but even his relationship to the owner couldn't give him the part he coveted--that of the Rat. The rivalry between the two men wasn't limited to their roles, however. They were also rivals for the attentions of the leading lady, Stephanie Vaughn. So, when murder happens, it's not too surprising. But everyone in the play would have been less surprised if Surbonadier had shot Gardener--after all, he thought Gardener had stolen his part and the affections of the actress. And the disgruntled actor was more the murderous type than the well-liked Gardener.
But did Gardener load the pistol with real bullets? Or did someone else do the switch and let Gardener do their dirty work for them? That's what Alleyn will have to determine. And it soon becomes apparent that plenty of people had good reason to want Surbonadier out of the way--everyone from his rival to the props man to his own uncle to the other actress he had made advances to. But who had the nerve...and the opportunity...to make the switch and change a prop into a real murder weapon?
Marsh's second novel is as entertaining as the first. Having such a love and interest in the theater, she provides a very realistic portrayal of the quirks and foibles of the actors, actresses, and sundry supporting backstage folk. Bathgate is a bit more annoying in this one--primarily because his friend Gardener is in the hot seat. I was relieved to see that Inspector Fox plays a larger role and I look forward to future installments when he will play "Watson" to Alleyn instead of Bathgate. Alleyn is also more flippant (and, at times, bordering on ridiculous) this time out, particularly in the beginning, but his character seems to settle down towards the end. I will be interested to see how Marsh presents him in the third novel.
The plot is intricate--in that it relies on who had access to the desk where the gun and bullets were kept and who was where during the crucial time period. And Marsh ends the story in grand dramatic style most suitable to its theatrical setting. ★★★★
[Finished on 2/7/18]