Monday, January 06, 2020

2. Death in a White Tie by Ngaio Marsh

My mother recommended this to me after I had complained about the bizarre marriage rituals in Edmund Crispin's The Case of the Gilded Fly.  It takes places a decade earlier before the war and is focused more consistently on the aristocracy.  It is a nice contrast as both are very British and pretty classically constructed murder mysteries.

Ngaio's detective is Roderick Alleyn, himself of the upper crust.  This case begins with his elderly mother deciding she is going to return to society and participate as a chaperone in the many debutante balls that would be going on in London.  This leads us to a blackmail case that touches many of Alleyn's acquaintances.  He engages an old family friend to be his man on the inside and at the end of an important ball, this man is murdered.  So the investigation involves both the blackmail and his murder.  Were they connected?  Who among the last people at the party could have followed him into his cab and suffocated him?

It's a solid and well-plotted mystery with some genuinely captivating moments of detective mastery.  Marsh does a great job of setting up diverse unpleasant characters who get their comeuppance in the face of Alleyn's superb interviewing skills.  These moments were quite fun, especially with the two super-pompous lords (though their characterizations blended a bit and were over broad to be truly ideal; still fun).  In the end, the mystery was complex but not too much that you got lost or disconnected.  I get why she is one of the Grand Masters of mystery and was popular for so long (and probably still is).  Nice to know there is a significant back catalog of her books that I haven't read, so when the time comes that I want a sure bet, I can go to it.

Note, this was a Jove edition from the early 80s and it has a very nice cover design and illustration that was part of a series of her books that I find quite aesthetically fetching.  You can see the other books on the back cover.

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