Friday, March 15, 2019

A Wreath for Rivera: Review

A Wreath for Rivera (1st pub as Swing Brother Swing; 1949) by Ngaio Marsh finds Lord Pastern & Bagott, the very model of eccentric British aristocracy taking up jazz drumming (or becoming a tympanist, according to Marsh). His eccentric nature has reminded Curtis at the Passing Tramp of real-life eccentric Lord Berners and he (Curtis) makes a good case for Marsh using Lord Berners as a model*. Lord Pastern--to use the abbreviated form--has in the past been involved with Indian yogis, VooDoo, and nudism to name a few of his eclectic pursuits. He has forced his wife to share her home with members of an esoteric Central European sect. She has, by turns, indulged him (initially), threatened to divorce him, generally lived separately, and more recently reunited with him. She found that once the Central Europeans vacated Duke's Gate (where she had lived apart from Lord Pastern) that she could not endure the quiet. So, when her husband decided to bang away at drums, she welcomed the noise and him to Duke's Gate.

His latest passion is to perform with an actual jazz band and he convinces Breezy Bellairs to let him join Breezy Bellairs' Boys for a feature number at the Metronome club. He's even written a little song and devised a pretty little skit to go along with the number. He'll bang away at the drums and then Carlos Rivera, Breezy's star piano-accordionist, will come out and get shot (with blanks). It will be a real show stopper. Of course, Rivera is a quite unsuitable young man who has gotten entangled with Lord Pastern's step-daughter Félicité  (Fée)and Lady Pastern wants the relationship quashed at all costs. When somebody loads the gun with something more deadly than blanks, she gets her wish. In spades.

Naturally, it winds up that all sorts of people might have wanted Rivera out of the way. He was putting pressure on Breezy. Other members of the band were a bit fed up with him. He flirted incessantly with Lord Pastern's niece Carlisle much to Félicité's annoyance (intended) as well as to Ned (Edward) Manx's--who has just discovered that he loves Lisle. But who hated or feared him enough to kill? 

Luckily, Inspector Roderick Alleyn is in the audience when Lord Pastern's "Hot Guy" number produces one very cold corpse. He and Fox will have to wade through musicians' jealousies, a traces of drug-dealing, a hint of blackmail, and a side-issue of the real identity of a famous agony columnist before they collar the murderer.

I think what I enjoyed most about this was the eccentricity. It may seem a bit over-the-top viewing it from today--but Lord Pastern's mad fads, Lady Pastern's holding on to her aristocratic roots in the post-war era, the silliness of the "Hot Guy" number (as proposed--not how it transpired) all create a certain atmosphere that could only take place in this book. I was glad that despite the fact that I know I must have read this back in the mists of time (when I was making my through every Marsh book my hometown library had on offer), I remembered nothing of the plot. So--although I spotted one portion of the solution (hidden in the apparent empty space that follows--highlight if curious)--the use of the duplicate gun--I couldn't quite see how it all had been managed. 

One out-of-the-way thing that struck me--particularly because I've been listening to Sayers' Whose Body on audio while roaming about in the car--is that calling one's friends and colleagues by odd little endearments must have been quite a thing in Golden Age/classic mysteries. At one point, when Fox says this case may be like the "Purloined Letter," Alleyn responds with: "Fox, my cabbage, my rare edition, my objet d'art, my own special bit of bijouterie, be damned if I don't think you've caught an idea." Lord Peter throws such things about when addressing Parker and Bunter at various points. Now, if I can remember, I'm going to have to pay attention when I read others and see if this is a pattern beyond Alleyn and Wimsey.... ★★

When I finished reading the hard copy, I noticed that the library had a book on CD read by James Saxon. I thought it would be interesting to see how he did reading the Marsh novel. Saxon does an excellent job with all the voices and it made running around in the car a fun experience. I generally prefer listening to audio novels that I've already read--that way I'm not likely to miss important details. So...I have now "read" this twice within a short period. Audio novel version counts for Virtual Mount TBR.

*For a more in-depth look at Lord Pastern & Bagott's relationship to Lord Berners (as well as a very smart review of Marsh's book in general), please visit Curtis over at The Passing Tramp.

All Challenges Fulfilled: Brit Crime Classics, Century of Books, Cloak & Dagger, Just the Facts, Medical Examiner, Mount TBR Challenge, Ngaio Marsh Challenge, Outdo Yourself, Print Only, Six Shooter, Strictly Print Challenge, Charity Challenge, Virtual Mount TBR

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