Sunday, February 17, 2019

Final Curtain: Review

Final Curtain (1947) by Ngaio Marsh finds Agatha Troy waiting for her husband's return from several years of war work in New Zealand and Australia. Inspector Alleyn is due back any time and Troy worries that the long separation may have spoiled their young relationship. When a request (a near-royal summons) comes from the celebrated actor Sir Henry Ancred for her to paint his portrait--in full actor's regalia as Macbeth--she is, at first, annoyed at the distraction. But when Sir Henry's son Thomas comes in person to plead the case, she is intrigued by his description of the family and decides that the distraction may be just what she needs. After all, Sir Henry's head fairly begs to be painted.

The family lives up to both Thomas's description and the run-down she received from Nigel Bathgate as she was leaving on the train for Ancreton Manor. She witnesses the bitter family dynamics and the jockeying for position as Sir Henry is fairly fickle in his favorites. The current front-runners are Patrica "Panty," his granddaughter, and Cedric, his grandson. But a spanner has been thrown into the works. The old gentleman has taken up with a young chorus girl and it looks like he may be out to prove that the "old man still has some life left in him." The family's fears are realized when Sir Henry announces that he plans to marry Sonia Orrincourt. 

Troy finishes the portrait just in time for a grand unveiling on Sir Henry's birthday. But things go awry when the picture is found to have been vandalized--with a flying green cow dropping bombs on Sir Henry's head. There have been several "practical jokes" in the days leading up to the birthday and nearly everyone (including Sir Henry) assumes that Panty is the culprit. After all, she does have a history of such things. But both her mother and Troy believe that she's telling the truth when she says she hasn't done any of the tricks played on her grandfather. Someone is up to mischief...but who wants the blame to fall on Panty?

Then Sir Henry dies--apparently from natural causes following his most ill-advised over-indulgence during the birthday meal. He's safely buried and the family is weathering the shock of discovering that he had changed his will one final time--leaving Cedric Ancreton Manor, but nearly all his money to Sonia. That's when things get interesting. 

Alleyn finally arrives back home and during their reunion, Troy tells him about her odd experiences at Ancreton Manor. Then anonymous notes start arriving that imply that Sir Henry's death wasn't natural after all. So Alleyn, Fox, and company start investigating. 

Like Colour Scheme and a few of the other novels, this is one where Alleyn shows up rather late in the proceedings. However, unlike Colour Scheme, I don't actually mind it so much this time because get to spend quite a lot of time with Troy and we learn a great deal about her in the process. In some ways she acts as Alleyn's stand-in...observing the family's behavior and being able to give him a trusted, first-hand account of the goings on leading up to the murder. She brings an artist's eye for detail and gives Alleyn (and us) valuable insights on the characters and incidents. It provides a very unique build-up to the investigation.

I think in some ways Marsh has tried to give us another eccentric family like the Lampreys. But here the dark undertones overshadow the pleasant oddities. There is really something a bit distasteful about most of the Ancreds. One thing that struck me about the story was the emphasis on how all the Ancreds were the same--overly-theatrical; they all made that "tuh" noise; etc--all, that is except Thomas. Having made such a point of how Thomas was an exception to the Ancred rule, I almost expected there to be a revelation that Thomas wasn't really an Ancred after all...and that maybe that would figure into the motives somehow. Ah, well--I guess it was a case of the author protesting too much. 

This was another enjoyable entry in the Alleyn chronicles--particularly since we see so much of Troy. Marsh did fool me on the killer...I had latched onto someone else and couldn't quite shake my belief in their guilt. ★★★★ 

All Challenges Fulfilled: Calendar of Crime, Just the Facts, Mount TBR Challenge, Alphabet Soup, Family Tree Challenge, Ngaio Marsh Challenge, Cloak & Dagger, Print Only, Strictly Print Challenge, Brit Crime Classics, Birth Year Challenge, Outdo Yourself, How Many Books, Six Shooter, Medical Examiner
Calendar of Crime: November--primary action


J.G. said...

This sounds like a lot of fun and the cover is amazingly retro. Is there a cat in it, or is that artistic license?

Bev Hankins said...

There is a cat--the cat contributes to the discovery of the murder.