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Murder In The Sticks

Ngaio Marsh’s 9th outing for Roderick Alleyn, Chief Detective Inspector of the C.I.D, originally published in 1939, sees him and the trusty Foxkin motoring down to deepest darkest Devon, called thither by an upper class rubicund shouty District Chief Constablle : Colonel The Honourable Maxwell Brammington. A murder (of course) has been committed and it has proved an effort too far for the local super – who also knows Alleyn, from yore – to solve

I must confess I enjoyed this a little less than most of my previous romps with Alleyn and his coterie. This might have been partly because, this time, the great man is only accompanied by Fox. The other regulars from his team are lacking, as is Nigel Bathgate, his sometimes a little foolish Watsonish foil, who can always be relied on to excitedly draw the wrong conclusions for the solving of the puzzle, and allow the witty, urbane and ferociously intelligent Alleyn to have some fun (with Fox) when true revelation is laid out before the reader. It might also be that on this one, I was a little more aware of the challenges offered by the prejudices of the times – primarily, class, and an automatic superiority of upper class Toryism, and the foolishness, not to mention, the somewhat distastefulness of those uppity working classes who get above themselves with a belief in socialism.

So…….to the fiendish and clever murder which Alleyn will solve, not to mention our cast of suspects, murderer and victim, already on the scene before the crime haps, and our trusty Alleyn and Fox arrive to shed light on darkness – it is thus (no spoilers)

Nothing whatsoever to do with Ngaio Marsh, but this 1949 Kitty Wells song has the same title, and the player looks suitably vintage

A group of impeccable uppercrusts, a KC, his cousin, a highly admired and well known actor, and their mutual friend, ditto hightly admired etc landscape and portrait painter always go away for a few days holiday, painting, walking, chatting et al to an absolutely out of the way Devonian hamlet. They stay in a particular hostelry, the landlord is a suitably forelock tugging, dialect speaking, rustic and loyal working class salt-of-the-earth Tory, However, being 1939, a well established ‘Left Movement’ has also been gaining sway. The landlord’s son is a member, it even employs a treasurer and secretary, has quite a few members, funds etc. There are no tugged forelocks and the members of the society who are regulars at the pub just might not take kindly to knowing their places. Also on the scene is a local femme fatale, so we might have several reasons for emotions to run high. Completing the cast are a couple of easy comedy types : a local Devonian oo-ar lush, complete with funny dialect, and a holidaying and eccentric Irishwoman, an impeccable Hon, but comedy turn Oirish, to be sure, to be sure, also. Local rustics of regions cue for comedy turns and slightly superior laughter.

The crime and its fiendish solving is ingenious as ever, but I missed the various developing relationships between Alleyn and his fellow professionals, and the incursion of Alleyn’s private life, and how his professional and private worlds relate to each other. There is a very enjoyable sequence where the good and warm friendship between Alleyn and Fox, and the understated respect and love they have for each other, is shown, but I did feel (perhaps wrongly) that this particular one was much more Marsh-by-numbers, written from the surface of her work, rather than inside her lovely creations. 4 stars, still, enjoyable, but not as MUCH as normal

Death at the Bar Amazon UK
Death at the Bar Amazon USA

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