Thursday, January 10, 2019

Died in the Wool: Review

Died in the Wool (1945) by Ngaio Marsh finds Inspector Alleyn still in New Zealand hunting spies in World War II. Alleyn had already been hard at work in the counter-espionage business in Marsh's previous novel, Colour Scheme. This time he's asked to investigate the death of a member of New Zealand's Parliament--Florence "Flossie" Rubrick. The Rubricks own a large country property which includes sheep herds and wool processing quarters. She had gone missing one evening after announcing she was headed to the wool shed to practice an up-coming speech. It isn't until sometime later that her body is found packed into a bundle of wool that has been sold.

Her nephew, Douglas Grace, fears that a spy is at work on the farm. He and Fabian Losse (nephew to Flossie's husband Arthur) have been working on a top-secret, hush-hush gadget that will greatly aid the war efforts and Grace is certain that Flossie must have discovered proof of the spy's identity and been killed because of it. Losse doesn't believe in the spy theory, but he does want the murder solved and after the local police flounder for over a year he writes to the "big wigs" and asks for Alleyn to drop in...dangling the possibility of a spy in front him as justification.

Since the case is so cold (no clues lying helpfully about to be picked up), Alleyn spends most of his time listening to every member of the household's account of the night in question and their impressions of Flossie. Arthur is no longer around--he died shortly after Flossie disappeared--but the two nephews, Flossie's ward Ursula Harme, and Terence Lynne, Flossie's secretary all give Alleyn their version of events. It isn't long before Alleyn realizes that there are several currents of motive running beneath the surface. There's a local boy who was Flossie's favorite until they had a grand row. And there's the growing affection between Terry (Terence) and her employer's husband. Not to mention the sudden fall from favor that Douglas experience with his aunt. A late-night hunt in the wool shed (yes--even all this time later) is called for and Alleyn becomes the target for the murderer himself before the curtain falls on this one.

What is particularly nice about this one is the way Alleyn's interviews so clearly underline that no one is the same person to each person they interact with. Every member of the household produces a different Flossie for the Inspector to understand. Marsh uses the psychology of each person's version to help Alleyn to understand what Flossie did in the days leading up to her murder that made her death imperative for the killer. Some may find this a bit slow going--there's a lot of talk and little action until the last third or so of the book--but in this instance I think it works. A good closed group mystery with excellent setting and background. ★★ and 1/2.

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Robin M said...

Sounds like a very interesting mystery story and will add it to my wishlist.
Thanks for the great review.

Carol said...

I always enjoy Ngaio Marsh's books, but I never remember the details later.