Tuesday, July 12, 2022

34. Death at the Bar by Ngaio Marsh

I've found somewhat of a pattern in my reading.  When feeling a bit lazy about it, I will go to a cozy mystery as an easy palette cleanser.  Being of a discerning and intelligent reader by nature, it has to be somewhat smart and well-written and fortunately for all of us, these grand dames of the mystery world have provided us with a lot of books that fall under that category.  Currently, Ngaio Marsh is deliving the goods for me but when I was reading Death at the Bar, I realized I was getting her confused with Dorothy L. Sayers and then realized I actually have only read a book of short stories by Sayers.  Furthermore, I've only read one P.D. James (liked it) never read any Ruth Rendell (is she as good?) or Margery Allingham (at least not in the life of this blog;I had read one by her in my college years and did not enjoy it).  I kind of "get" Ngaio Marsh now so I hope to add at least some James and Sayers to my on-deck shelf as future palette cleansers.

Death at the Bar takes place in a cool-sounding small town (accessible only through a precarious tunnel cut into the hillside) on the Devon coast of England where a trio of gentlemen have come to vacation.  One is a painter, one an actor and the third a prosecuting lawyer (barrister? K.P.? Who the fuck can figure out the weird British legal system).  The lawyer has a minor fender-bender on his way in and then encounters again the other driver at the bar.  This leads to a weird, subtle conflict which ends in a dart contest which ends in the lawyer getting pricked by a dart and then collapsing and dying from ostensibly cyanide poisoning.  A classic, complex whodunnit where everyone at the bar could have done and at least three ways the poison could have been applied (the dart, the brandy he was given afterwards and the iodine used to treat the dart wound).

I really enjoyed the setting, the characters and the interplay between Marsh's detective Alleyn, his sidekick Sergeant Fox and the suspects.  I actually ended up staying up way too late the night before an early flight because I wanted to find out who dunned it.  Unfortunately, I ended up not being super satisfied. The last section spends the entire time on going over in great detail all the possibilities and suspects and eliminating them until the mystery is finally revealed.  The solution is clever, but for me, I realize I actually do not have the patience and focus to care about these details.  It all feels too nerdy for me.  I think I may not be a true mystery lover at that level where you can actually think through the details of the crime and try and figure it out and I realize that is what Marsh excels at (similar level of detail in the other book of hers that I read).  I'm there more for the setting and interplay of characters.  I suspect that real mystery buffs may have been somewhat underwhelmed at the solution to this one as it turns out to be the most obvious suspect (after he had been sort of eliminated, so a clever twist by Marsh but still leaves you feeling like you didn't get the big reveal).


No comments: