Sunday, August 25, 2019

Singing in the Shrouds

Singing in the Shrouds (1958) by Ngaio Marsh finds Inspector Roderick Alleyn pursuing a serial killer who follows his deed with a bit of song. Three young women have been found strangled to death--their cheap necklaces broken and their bodies strewn with flowers. Witnesses in the vicinity of the murders report hearing a high-pitched male voice singing at about the time officials believe the deaths to have occurred. The last victim was a girl from a flower shop who had been sent to deliver flowers to Mrs. Dillington-Blick, a passenger on the South Africa-bound Cape Farewell. Clutched in the dead woman's hand was an embarkation notice from the ship which leads the police to believe that the murderer is also a passenger on the ship.

Alleyn joins the ship at its next port of call--but incognito. Neither Scotland Yard nor the ship's company (and captain) want to alarm the passengers or give the culprit warning if he really is on board, so he appears C. J. Broderick, cousin of chairman of the shipping company. He mingles with the passengers and crew and finds that his prime suspects include: Mrs. Dillington-Blick, a rubenesque beauty who has men buzzing round her like bees round a honey pot; Mr. and Mrs. Cuddy, a stodgy middle class couple who don't quite get the jokes; Katherine Abbot, a woman of somewhat masculine build who is an expert on church music; Mr. Philip Merryman, an acerbic retired schoolmaster; Father Charles Jourdain, an Anglo-Catholic priest; Brigid Carmichael, a young woman whose engagement has ended badly; Mr. Aubyn Dale, a television personality who is taking a trip to calm his nerves; Mr. Donald McAngus, an elderly bachelor; and Dr. Timothy Makepiece, the newly-boarded ship's doctor who also specializes in psychiatry. 

Unfortunately, the captain resents his presence and even actively hobbles a few of his efforts--though he does participate in a little game of "how good is your memory" to elicit a few alibis for the night of one of the Flower Murders. In the wake of this (and after cabling Fox to check up on the details), Alleyn is able to eliminate the good doctor and priest from the suspect list and enlists their aid in keeping watch over the women. There is a final murder before Alleyn can lay the murder by the heels. And even then he has to force a confession through a highly dramatic scene.

There are several things to like about this one--including the opening scene on the foggy London docks. Very atmospheric and full of suspense. I also enjoyed the closed-scene setting of the shipboard murder. It's nice to have Alleyn introduced early on and watch him work throughout though having Jourdain and Makepiece pinch-hit for the missing Fox and company doesn't work quite as well. I like Makepiece best when he is spending his time with Brigid (who gets over her broken engagement fairly rapidly). It's also a shame that Marsh cuts her suspect pool's not nearly as difficult to spot the killer when you have Fox cabling the all-clear on potential suspects.'s an entertaining mystery and Marsh produces an interesting serial killer plot for Alleyn to unravel. ★★ and a half.

Finished 8/17/19
Vintage Gold Card: When--on a trip
Deaths = four strangled

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