Monday, May 30, 2011

A hum-drum mystery

Scales of Justice, Ngaio Marsh

I went through a Ngaio Marsh phase a few years ago.  After seeing some of the TV adaptations, I tried the books and as usual liked them much better.  So I collected quite a few of the books, and read some of them, and then lost interest - and the unread books have languished on the TBR pile ever since.

I recently read P.D. James' Talking About Detective Fiction, which gives high marks to Marsh.  So I thought I'd try another one off the TBR pile and see how it compared.   I chose Scales of Justice because it seemed like a typical "cozy" mystery, set in a small village with a squire, a district nurse, a trout stream, and a pub called The Boy and Donkey.  By chance, I chose one that James mentions specifically in her book, since it includes a line ("In the circumstances I prefer to deal with a gent") that illustrates Marsh's class consciousness.

I found this book dull and hard to follow, and if it hadn't been so short I might have abandoned it unfinished.  Marsh sets up the local community in the chapters before the murder, defining the various cast members and drawing up the lines of conflict between them. She also details the layout of the village, which I found confusing. The main conflict centers around a manuscript of memoirs that the dying Sir Harold Lacklander entrusts for publication to Col. Cartarette, one chapter of which apparently reveals a devastating family secret.  A murder ensues, and the Dowager Lady Lacklander calls in Roderick Alleyn and his team; she is the one who prefers to deal with a gent. The investigation centers around trout, and a complicated time-table of suspects that I was unable to follow. I found the characters rather wooden, and I wonder if that's the contrast with Deborah Crombie, Louise Penny and Susan Hill's characters, all of whom seem much more real and human.  I realized at one point I was wondering where Tom Tring was - and then remembered he's from the Daisy Dalrymple books by Carola Dunn.

I don't see in this book the talents that P.D. James ascribes to Ngaio Marsh. I suppose I'll try the others at some point, if only to clear them off the TBR pile.

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Thank you for taking the time to read, and to comment. I always enjoy hearing different points of view about the books I am reading, even if we disagree!