Monday, 16 November 2020

Ngaio Marsh - Tied up in Tinsel

Tied up in Tinsel is, I think, the only Christmas book by Marsh (I had to go back and check Death and the Dancing Footman, published thirty years before, but although in the earlier book there is a winter party in a country house, with the requisite cut-off-by-snow complication, it's early 1940, rather than Christmas).

This book starts with Hilary Bill-Tasman, who I pegged as middle-aged at first but gradually realised was meant to be younger, restoring his ancestral home with the money from a surprisingly successful antiques business built up by his late father (who had all the right connections) and honorary uncle Bert Smith (who had the business brain). 

The bulldozers are slumbering under the snow at present though, and as with the earlier book a house party is in the offing, and a portrait by that famous, if fictional, artist Agatha Alleyn nee Troy is underway. To add to the fun there will be a big children's party for the local families, complete with food, presents and a golden bearded druid (in lieu of Father Christmas). 

Of course you can't run all this sort of thing without servants, but in 1973 servants are not easy to come by. Hilary gets round this problem by employing what Inspector Fox later calls 'oncers' - convicted murderers who committed their crimes under peculiar circumstances, have served their sentences, and are considered highly unlikely to do it again. Most luckily there is a prison just over the next scarecrow-topped hill, and they are quite happy to send the odd person Hilary's way in hope of rehabilitation. 

Which is a mad but somehow quite plausible set-up, the sort of thing you can imagine people doing, in that hopeful 'liberal with a small l' 1970s way, and fits tidily with Alleyn and Troy's earlier professed distaste for the death penalty (which was abolished for murder, although not treason, in the 60s). 

But of course once someone goes missing no-one can quite forget that there are people in the house who have killed before.. 

I'm a bit sorry I didn't read this one at Christmas, because although I didn't really care whodunnit and the solution to the mystery was fairly straightforward, it does have that perfect Christmas atmosphere - eccentric family members, lots of food and drink, snow sculptures and sleigh bells and, of course, lots of tinsel. Hilary is one of those fairly harmless snobs Marsh excels in, and Troy's confused reactions to the ex-murderous staff (trying to think the best but unable to stop the intrusive thoughts about what they have actually done) is excellent. 

I might read it again at Christmas anyway. Especially as if seems - fingers crossed - I'm on track to read all the books by the end of the year.. 

Which means I need a new project for 2021. Back to the 80s again, maybe? 

Monday, 9 November 2020

Ngaio Marsh - When in Rome

I meant to write about When In Rome back when I read it in September, and I'm not quite sure why I didn't. 

In this one we have Alleyn taking a holiday tour of Rome, and like Clutch of Constables before it you can feel that time has passed, but not at the same pace for the Alleyns themselves as for the rest of the world. In particular there is an aunt and nephew combo who clearly think they're very vicious and 'with it' (we're in the late 60s) but who are just rather pathetic in a way, and perhaps even realise it. Others on or around the tour are: a decently famous author, enveigled into being a guide against his better judgement, a young and slightly star struck young woman from his publishing house (they're not together, she just happens to be there, but they provide the romance that is so often a prerequisite of murder mysteries) a deeply unpleasant blackmailer, his ex wife who is now reduced to begging, and a married couple from, I think, Holland (whose accents were thankfully not too overused as light relief).  I'm sure I've missed some people, but those are the main ones that I remember. 

The ending is slightly cinematic - it would film better than it reads and I do wonder whether (and I've wondered the same about some Agatha Christies from the same sort of period - Hallowe'en Party in particular) the dramatic but tidy ending was just how it was done in the 60s. 

But the ending is a minor point in a book I really enjoyed. Right from the first, with our author's panic when he realises he's lost his manuscript and doesn't even know how to tell anyone, then his creeping realisation of what's really going on, it drew me in. It all felt very real.

So all in all, loved this one. More so than the first time I read it actually, and I really want to go back to Rome. 

Maybe next year.