April Fool's Day seems to Lady Bantling to be the perfect time to throw a scavenger hunt dinner party. Known for her outrageous parties, she goes all out, sending her guests on a village-wide hunt for rhyming clues that will lead them to the grand prize--a magnum of champagne. But the festivities come to a disagreeable end when Mr. Harold Cartell is found dead face down in a drainage ditch the next morning. A drainage ditch that was the site for one of the clues. Superintendent Alleyn and company are called in right away so the trail is fresh and the evidence (such as it is) as undisturbed as possible.
The question Alleyn will have to answer is whose hands were in the gloves that set a fatal booby for the disagreeable elderly lawyer Mr. Cartell? Leading up to the fateful night, there are all sorts of relationship troubles. The sweet but snobbish bachelor Mr. Pyke Period has been forced by post-war circumstances to share his lodgings with the prickly Mr. Cartell. It causes all sorts of domestic upheavals from unexpected (dare I say unwanted) extra guests at meal times to the outrageous antics of Cartell's disagreeable dog Pixie to Cartell's indelicate references to Period's claims of ancestry. But has Mr. Period's life been disrupted enough to cause him feel murderous towards his housemate?
Then there's Cartell's relationship to his sister Connie--a childless woman who has taken an unaccountable fancy to a "poor orphan girl" (of 20 or so, mind you) and is willing to turn a blind eye to anything Moppet (what a nickname) and her disreputable boyfriend might get up to. When it becomes apparent that Leonard (said boyfriend) is a thief and a man out to con a local garage man out of a fancy car, Cartell lowers the boom. Connie must disentangle Moppet from her boyfriend or Moppet and Leonard will face the police. Would Connie kill her brother over a girl who's no relation? Would Moppet and/or Leonard kill to prevent a more minor run-in with the police?
We mustn't forget Lady Desiree Bantling and her delightful (key sarcasm font) third husband Bimbo (who is not Lord Bantling). Bimbo was mixed up in some unsavory doings at a club in London. Would he kill over that ancient history? Or are there more recent doings to cover up? Nor should we overlook Lady Bantling's son, Andrew. Cartell and Period are the trustees of Lord Bantling's will and Andrew has had a fairly heated argument with the lawyer over his future plans. Andrew paints (rather well according to Troy Alleyn who should know) and wants an advance on his trust funds to start his own gallery. Cartell refuses to consider such "nonsense" and insists that the young man stay in the Guards and stick to a proper job. Would Andrew kill for his dreams or would his mother kill to help her son?
Warning: A few spoilery bits in my observations below....
Marsh's characters in this one are a little more intensely eccentric than usual. P.P. (as he's known) is definitely larger than life as a man snobbishly aware of breeding. And Connie's snorting laugh is a little much (but definitely better on paper than when heard--as in the filmed version with Patrick Malahide as Alleyn--more on that in a bit). But--even with characters that take a bit of believing in at times, this is still a quite enjoyable mystery with a good dose of comedic turns. One might question the motive of the killer, but the theme of twisted love/devotion is a popular one (Sayers addressed it Gaudy Night). Becoming obsessed with the love object, whether a lover or a child, does strange things to people.
And...while I enjoy Andrew and Nicola (temporary typist for P.P.) and their blooming romance...wouldn't it have been interesting if just once Dame Ngaio had made one of her charming young lovers (or both in cahoots) the guilty party? It's a sure bet that if you've got a pair of young things making eyes at each other in a sweet way (not the antics of Moppet & Leonard!), then neither of them did it. ★★★ and 3/4.
|Me wondering: Why shoehorn Troy in?|
Just the Facts Silver: Why (Author Not from My Country)
Calendar of Crime: April (April Fool's Day)
Deaths = One (smothered)