In Singing in the Shrouds, Ngaoi Marsh gives us another mystery with a group of individuals, the killer and potential victims, trapped together., in this case on a boat. When the police found a corpse on a wharf in the Pool of London, her body covered with flower petals and pearls, they know she is the latest victim of the Flower Murder. Once again, the killer walked away, singing. Within the hour he was safe at sea, aboard the Carpe Farewll, a cargo ship bound for South Africa, one of nine passengers. Inspector Roderick Alleyn joins the voyage undercover, to both discover the murderer’s identity and protect the women on board.

The passengers include a TV talk show star, a middle-aged femme fatale, a crotchety, retired schoolmaster, and a sad spinster. There’s also a young couple who get to fall in love and a priest who I was unsure of through the whole story. The characters are rather two-dimensional, but I enjoy Marsh’s stories as light mysteries. I don’t expect a lot of character development, so I wasn’t disappointed in that. The tension aboard ship is palpable and, though Alleyn implies in his letter to his wife that he’s pretty sure who the killer is, he doesn’t let us in on it until the end. I didn’t guess who the killer was, although I really should have. Looking back it should have been obvious, but Marsh gives us enough potential suspects that I wasn’t sure who to focus on, and they are all nuts in their own way.

This was written in the ’50s and vintage mysteries tend to have more than their fair share of sexism and racism, in this one though it’s the two gay characters, one a man and one a woman, who receive the harshest treatment, even from the author herself. It’s wasn’t enough for me to dislike the story, but I could see where it might bother others.

I liked Inspector Alleyn, as always. He’s calm for the most part, knows when to be caring and when to be stern. I also appreciate his dedication to his wife. While he doesn’t share all his suspicions, we do get to see the clues he finds, the conclusions he reaches.

Ngaio Marsh is an author whose stories I enjoy. They’re comfortable reads, not overly challenging but perfect for a quiet afternoon.

3 out of 5 stars

Category: Mystery & Detective- Police Procedural

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Roderick Alleyn #20
First published 1958
7 hours 33 minutes
Read by Michael Jayston

Book source: Library

Roderick Alleyn Series

  1. A Man Lay Dead
  2. Enter a Murderer
  3. The Nursing-Home Murder
  4. Death in Ecstasy
  5. Vintage Murder
  6. Artists in Crime
  7. Death in a White Tie
  8. Overture to Death
  9. Death at the Bar
  10. Death of a Peer (APA: Surfeit of Lampreys )
  11. Death and the Dancing Footman
  12. Colour Scheme
  13. Died in the Wool
  14. Final Curtain
  15. A Wreath for Rivera (APA: Swing, Brother, Swing)
  16. Night at the Vulcan (APA: Opening Night)
  17. Spinsters in Jeopardy (APA: The Bride of Death )
  18. Scales of Justice
  19. Death of a Fool (APA: Off with His Head)
  20. Singing in the Shrouds
  21. False Scent
  22. Hand in Glove
  23. Dead Water
  24. Killer Dolphin (APA: Death at the Dolphin)
  25. Clutch of Constables
  26. When in Rome
  27. Tied Up in Tinsel
  28. Black as He’s Painted
  29. Last Ditch
  30. Grave Mistake
  31. Photo Finish
  32. Light Thickens