Theatrical Am-Drams, and a darkening mood in Marsh
As I continue on my sequential journey through ‘The Empress’ of the Golden Age of Crime, it is not surprising that with this one, published in 1939, a began to feel a darker and more sombre tone developing. Marsh’s own craft in writing is appreciable growing and, in this one, not only are characters becoming more layered, and more psychologically interesting, but there is also an occasional ‘stream of consciousness’, from inside the minds of some of the major characters – including those under suspicion
The longings of two friend-and-rival spinsters of the parish, female jealousy in general, not to mention the destructive talents of a femme fatale in a small community are brilliantly laid out in this. Yes, Marsh retains her usual style and her usual wit and light touch, but there is also pathos. This does not just come from Alleyn and his team, who are all refreshingly well-functioning individuals, but it also comes from some of those who may not like some of the other characters within the community (for good reason) but do come to appreciate the depth of suffering the unlikeable ones might be experiencing: they might be a little more than just figures of fun, mockery and irritation
Rachmaninov’s Prelude plays an important role in the story……..
The generally upper middle class denizens of a small community are engaged in some pleasurably entertaining ‘good works’ – am-drams to raise money for a cause close to their own hearts – a better piano in the village hall. Into the mix and another (of course) ingenious murder are thrown the spinsters, the object of their affections (the local high Anglican cleric) an affair which might damage the social standing of someone otherwise respected in the community, a pair of star crossed (or at least, minorly class crossed lovers) and the added complication that the local police surgeon and the local acting chief constable are not only witnesses but might themselves have motive for murder.
A solo piano version of Ethelbert Nevin’s Venetian Suite is also much discussed
All the usual and expected formulas are in place, so murder ingeniously managed and the eventual ‘re-staging of the scene of the crime’ which will flush out the murder for the benefit of the reader and the innocent others, are present. Alleyn and his brothers in the Yard had already solved the case, but just are waiting to precipitate denouement/confession/evidence. Blessed Bathgate, of course, is as slow on the uptake (or, possibly, even slower) than Marsh’s devoted readers