Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Scales of Justice

Scales of Justice (1955) is one of Ngaio Marsh's most classically British mysteries. In fact, despite its 1955 printing date, it has a very pre-WWII feel to it. It is set in the standard small charming village with all the familiar figures--former British military types (Colonel Carterette, the murderee, and Commander Syce, an inebriate ex-navy man); the local landed gentry represented by Lady Lacklander and her son (recently elevated to Sir George Lacklander after the death of his father); the nosy middle-aged woman (this time Nurse Kettle,the county nurse), the romantic young couple (Dr. Mark Lacklander--George's son--and Rose Carteretts--the Colonel's daughter; and the Outsider in the form of Colonel Carterette's second (much younger) wife. There's a nice, healthy on-going feud between Carterette and his neighbor Mr. Octavius Danberry-Phinn over fishing rights and the attempt to catch the Old Un (a rather spectacular trout).

Then Carterette manages to alienate his friends the Lacklanders when Sir Harold (while on his deathbed) commissions the colonel with taking charge of and seeing to the publication of his memoirs. That wouldn't be so bad, but Sir Harold had made some alterations and confessions that the family would rather not see the light of day.  Sir George has a huge row with Carterette and tells him that any understanding between their children is now off. This is followed by another loud disagreement with Danberry-Phinn over the Old Un...and then later that evening, Nurse Kettle stumbles across the Colonel's body with the disputed fish lying beside it.

Lady Lacklander doesn't want the local bobby mucking up the investigation, so she calls in favors at Scotland Yard and asks that Inspector Alleyn take up the case. Because he is a gentleman. And..because she knew him when he was young and it appears that she thinks she may be able to manipulate him into hushing things up. She and her family also think they can keep Sir Harold's skeletons firmly in the closet. She and her family would be wrong. As they soon learn, Alleyn may be a gentleman but he is also a dedicated copper and will follow up every lead, no matter how fishy* until he has identified the murderer.

This really is quite good. There is a lot of humor in the book. Marsh pokes fun at the class distinctions--particularly the Lacklanders--without making them into caricatures. The country village setting is well done and we're given a nice overview of the landscape and social set-up in the opening with Nurse Kettle. Marsh lays a good trail of clues with a nice batch of red herrings mixed in (mixed better than my metaphors, I'm happy to add). Though I show on my reading list that I'd read this one, I had no memory of having done so and little more of the production with Patrick Malahide as Alleyn, so Marsh was able to lead me up the garden path for quite a bit of the book. I did manage to untangle the clues before Alleyn explained it all, but not long before. Overall, a satisfying read. ★★

*forgive me, I couldn't resist

[Finished on 6/16/19]
Calendar of Crime = May (Military figure)

1 comment:

Kate said...

This is one of my favourite Marsh novels and one I am planning on re-reading this year. For reasons I can't remember, I have always felt this was an investigation, Marsh managed to make interesting. Hopefully a re-read won't disabuse me of that...