Monday, March 12, 2018

The Nursing Home Murder: Review

The Nursing Home Murder (1935) is the third Inspector Alleyn novel by Ngaio Marsh. The Bolshevik's have reared their ugly heads again (see A Man Lay Dead) and have been sending death threats to Sir Derek Callaghan, the Home Secretary. Sir Derek is due to present a very important bill before Parliament and there are those who would prefer that bill never see the light of day. He has also been experiencing bouts of extreme abdominal pain--refusing to see a doctor until he has launched his bill. But in the middle of his speech, the spasms are so great that he falls unconscious.

His colleagues are aware that his doctor is Sir John Phillips and he is rushed to Phillips' hospital where he will be in the most capable hands. But no one is aware of the serious argument the two men had just the night before or that Sir John has threatened the Home Secretary's life. Nor are they aware of Nurse Harden who will be in the operating room--a woman who has recently been cast aside as Sir Derek's mistress and is the reason for Sir John's animosity. But these aren't the only ones with cause to hate the incapacitated man. Nurse Banks is a member of the anarchist society who threatened Sir Derek's life. And though Dr. Roberts, the anesthesiologist, may not have a known hatred for the man on the table, he does have some odd and obsessive ideas about eugenics. And Dr. Thoms, also present for the operation, behaves a bit oddly as well. It doesn't help that Sir Derek's slightly loopy sister has been stuffing him with patent medicines that may have been provided by a chemist with Bolshevik leanings. Needless to say, after what seems to have been a successful operation on a perforated appendix, Sir Derek dies and his death is ascribed to heart failure.

Lady O'Callaghan isn't having it. She's quite certain that the anarchists have gotten to her husband somehow. That is...until she discovers the threatening letter that Nurse Jane Harden was foolish enough to write. Convinced that her husband has been murdered, she calls Scotland Yard and demands a postmortem. Inspector Alleyn interviews her and her butler, Nash--who reveals that he overheard Sir John threaten his employer as well--and reluctantly agrees that a postmortem is indicated. Lady O'Callaghan's fears are proved to be well-founded when the p.m. reveals that Sir Derek died from an overdose of hyoscine.

It doesn't take Alleyn and Inspector Fox long to ferret out all the motives, but they have difficulty pinpointing the opportunity. In the operating room it would be difficult for anyone to mess about with the injections without someone else noticing. Alleyn finally resorts to that standard of crime fiction--the reenactment. And it is during the performance that he is given the clue that leads him to the culprit.

This installment of the Alleyn stories again has Nigel Bathgate--but he has been relegated to the sidelines. Alleyn uses him (and his girlfriend) to help scope out a meeting of the anarchists, uses them as a sounding board for a synopsis of the case to date, and then as an audience for the final wrap-up and explanation scene. Honestly--roles that Inspector Fox could have filled more successfully (and will in later novels). Bathgate as a Watson-like character seems to be losing his charm. Fortunately, the same is not true of Alleyn and Fox and I thoroughly enjoyed their investigation--especially the reenactment scenes. ★★ and a half.

I also took the opportunity to rewatch this episode of the BBC series starring Patrick Malahide with William Simons as Inspector Fox. The story is kept intact save for two points--there is a second (wholly unnecessary) death (to add to the drama, I suppose) and the time period has been updated from the 1930s to the late 1940s/early 1950s so that the Bolshevik anarchists have become those who have strong feelings about the Palestine situation. Much as I like Belinda Lang as Agatha Troy, I was glad that she was not thrust into this episode as she was in "A Man Lay Dead." I do wish those who adapt mystery series would stick to the timelines established by the authors--and the first episode felt cluttered with both Troy and Nigel Bathgate running around as "outsiders" to the suspects. However, that quibble aside, the Alleyn series is quality mystery television and really quite well done.


Clothes In Books said...

I think my comment disappeared, but delete if this is a repeat! I read this not long ago - it seemed fairly uninispiring while I was reading it, but it was actually quite memorable, it had some very interesting aspects to it. And I very much agree with you about the TV series.

Bev Hankins said...

Moira, I don't remember seeing a previous comment from you. Don't know what happened to it.

Yeah--I didn't have too many memories of the book from when I first read it (back in the mists of time). I liked it much better this time around. There's some interesting aspects to the way Alleyn handles the investigation.