Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Vintage Murder: Review

Vintage Murder (1937) by Ngaio Marsh finds Inspector Roderick Alleyn on a rest cure holiday in the large island country of New Zealand. He's recovering from some unnamed injury acquired in the line of duty and he's hoping for a trip full of nothing but peace and quiet. However, while traveling cross-country by train he encounters a touring acting company which includes one familiar face (found in the earlier story Enter a Murderer) and he makes friends with others. This results in an invitation to a performance and the company's after-party--which will also honor the leading lady's birthday.

He should have known that he was in for a very different sort of drama when said leading lady Carolyn Dacres's husband is nearly shoved off the train and a large sum of money is stolen from another cast member. It definitely doesn't surprise the reader that murder strikes during the birthday party and Alfred Meyer, the husband, is the victim. One might be surprised that the murder weapon is huge jeroboam of champagne that drops unceremoniously upon his head during what is supposed to be a pleasant surprise for the birthday girl.

The local police assume it is an accident--a slight miscalculation of the angle of descent. But Alleyn is forced to gently lead them to the clues he's already spotted which point to a more sinister explanation. He then treads a narrow path--trying not to step on official toes--on a busman's holiday to help discover who had the opportunity to tamper with the champagne surprise package as well as a motive to kill the inoffensive company producer. They wind their way through suspect interviews looking for anyone who lacks an alibi for the critical time period and find themselves with several motives, but apparently no one with opportunity. It will take a careful review of the time table and looking at the scene of action from another point of view before Alleyn finally spots the culprit.

I really enjoy the Marsh books set in the theater world. As I mentioned in my review of Enter a Murderer, her interest in and love of the acting world really shows in the detail she provides and the treatment of the characters. Favorite bits are the journey on the train and Alleyn's interactions with Dr. Rangi Te Pokiha, a Maori doctor. The plot style is a bit repetitive (from the earlier theater book)--relying again on who was where during the critical period and who had access to the equipment--but still interesting and well-done. The critical draw-back for me was the lack of Inspector Fox--though Alleyn does consult him by telegram and address him in letters. The Alleyn/Fox duo is a partnership I enjoy seeing in action.  ★★ and a half stars.

[Finished on 5/7/18. I am WAY behind on my reviews.]

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