Monday, May 13, 2019

Spinsters in Jeopardy: Spoilerish Review

To discuss the novel in the way I would like, I may reveal more of the plot than those who have not yet read the book would like. Forge ahead at your own risk...

Spinsters in Jeopardy (1953; aka The Bride of Death) is one of the most bizarre books by Ngaio Marsh. Here we have England sending one of its most celebrated Scotland Yard detectives "undercover" to infiltrate a drug ring. And, as if that's not enough, he's going to take along his wife who is just as celebrated (or perhaps more so) in her own right as an artist. To make everything look like a totally legit family vacay, we'll throw in an incredibly precocious six-year-old son as well. 

On top of this ludicrous set-up, we have coincidences galore...Troy's mysterious cousin just happens to be working at the factory which is producing the drugs. The cousin is also in the inner circle of Mr. Oberon, leader of the cult which serves as a cover for the thriving heroin business. A spinster (one of those who wind up in jeopardy) on the train out to Rouqueville falls deathly ill and, having no friends or relations with her and none in the immediate vicinity, Alleyn and family take her under their wing and manage to use her as an entree to the cult's home base. Because, of course, there is a spectacular surgeon who's part of Oberon's entourage and he can save the day for the spinster. winds up that Carbury Glande, a fellow painter who's bound to recognize Troy and blow the gaff in a most disastrous way, is also part of the entourage. Only he doesn't--blow the gaff, that is. How fortunate that he doesn't know that Troy has married a celebrated policeman. Though how he could not, is beyond me. Maybe he forgot.

And...Marsh seems to be trying to stuff every conceivable bit of criminal activity into this book that she can: murder, gangs, kidnapping, drug producing, drug pushing, drug taking, and maybe even a bit of fraud since the cult is definitely not what it claims to be. It's no wonder I read this just once before (back in the mists of time when I was reading my way through all the mysteries in my home town library) and never had a desire to read it again until I joined up for the Ngaio Marsh Reading Challenge on Goodreads. Though--to be fair, I don't really remember thinking it was quite such a mess the first time I read it. It just seems to me that Marsh couldn't settle down to what kind of story she wanted to tell. Thriller? International drug ring? Murder viewed from a train? Charismatic figure leading cult members into a life of crime? Oh...why don't we just do it all!

There were some bright points--mostly in characters. I thoroughly enjoyed Raoul and Therese in supporting roles and Troy and Alleyn are delightful as usual excepting a few scenes with them as parents. I don't think Marsh writes parenting scenes well consistently. To be quite honest, she could have left Ricky out of the story altogether and it would have suited me better. And, seriously, what policeman going undercover into a possibly dangerous situation would take along their six-year-old?

Definitely not one of Marsh's best novels.

Finished on 5/6/19
Deaths = one: stabbed
Calendar = June: word with "J"


Jean said...

Now I want to read it to see what a mess it is...I have no memory of this one, though I know I've read it.

Kate said...

Totally agree. This really is an awful book!

Jean said...

Now I need to read this and see what I think! I know I've read it before but have no memory of it.

Carol said...

I love Marsh, but yeah, this one was not great. And I kind of think Ricky should be left out of the series altogether.