It becomes harder for me to review books after I’ve read several in a series. For regular followers, redescribing the main characters and the style of the book may just be a repeat of what I’ve said before. That’s not so much a problem with Marsh’s books, though. Although her detective, Roderick Alleyn, shows up in all of them, they are each very different books, from setting to minor characters to the reasons behind the crimes.
In Black as He’s Painted, the “Boomer,” an old school friend of Alleyn’s is now the president/dictator of a fictional emerging African nation, Ng’ombwana, is in London. I forgot why- a meeting of some kind I’m sure. Anyway, he’s notoriously difficult to protect, disdaining body guards and local police, seeming to feel more or less untouchable. However, he’s got all kinds of enemies, from ex-colonists to new rivals, from dispossessed businessmen to racist crackpots. At a reception at the embassy, an attempt is presumably made on his life, but the result is that the ambassador is killed by a ceremonial spear. Alleyn’s got suspects galore, and the difficult position of the embassy being more or less Ng’ombwana territory, with his investigation only tolerated as long as the Boomer is willing.
The plot is well-done, with the over-arching mystery appropriately tangled and clues doled out that I mostly missed. There’s also a quick mystery, too, that helps wrap the whole thing up. As always, it’s interesting to see the different viewpoints and cultural norms of the time.
For me though, Marsh ‘s strength here is the characters. Inspector Alleyn is as intelligent and polite as always. He is a gentleman, a member of the upper class, as this episode reminds us. I like that his wife, Troy, who is a painter had a much larger part in this book than in others I’ve read. She definitely takes a back seat when there’s action, sent home immediately following the killing for example, but she can still hold her own. The Boomer asks her to paint his portrait and she is delighted, even with the potential danger surrounding the man. Seeing the sittings and how she approaches the painting, along with her insights into the Boomer’s character added a lot to the book. The Boomer himself is a powerful character, very aware of who he is and who he has to be, if that makes sense.
Mr Whipplestone is probably my favorite character, along with his cat, Lucy Lockett. He’s a former Foreign Service Officer who happens to move into a flat near a lot of suspicious people. He’s useful with the investigation, having spent time in Ng’ombwana, knowing the language and the key players, but it is truly the cat who helps solve the mystery. She’s a smart one, she is, providing one of the pivotal clues. Well, she actually has to show it to the dull people a couple of times before they catch on.
My one problem with the book is that it was rather racist. It was published in 1974, the year I was born actually, and I didn’t expect it to be politically correct, but it did make me slightly uncomfortable at a few points.
3½ out of 5 stars
Category: Mystery- Police Procedural
Roderick Alleyn #28
First published 1974
8 hours 1 minute
Narrated by Nadia May
March Mystery Madness is hosted by Christina at Reading Thru the Night.
Book source: Library
Roderick Alleyn Series
- A Man Lay Dead
- Enter a Murderer
- The Nursing-Home Murder
- Death in Ecstasy
- Vintage Murder
- Artists in Crime
- Death in a White Tie
- Overture to Death
- Death at the Bar
- Death of a Peer (APA: Surfeit of Lampreys )
- Death and the Dancing Footman
- Colour Scheme
- Died in the Wool
- Final Curtain
- A Wreath for Rivera (APA: Swing, Brother, Swing)
- Night at the Vulcan (APA: Opening Night)
- Spinsters in Jeopardy (APA: The Bride of Death )
- Scales of Justice
- Death of a Fool (APA: Off with His Head)
- Singing in the Shrouds
- False Scent
- Hand in Glove
- Dead Water
- Killer Dolphin (APA: Death at the Dolphin)
- Clutch of Constables
- When in Rome
- Tied Up in Tinsel
- Black as He’s Painted
- Last Ditch
- Grave Mistake
- Photo Finish
- Light Thickens
I’m always looking for good mysteries, I’ll add #1 to my TBR list. I really appreciate that you have added the previous titles (of this series) to your post. Thanks! (a new follower)
I’m actually reading these out of order, based on what my library has on audio and not having any trouble with it. It’s not a series I feel you need to start at #1 with, and there are definitely some that are better than others.
I remain so impressed with the books you read!!!
I hear you. Sometimes in a series I feel like I am just saying that which i have said before. But you did so well 😀
I’m glad I’m not the only one who feels that way.
It is hard to review books in a series after a while. I was a junior in high school in 1974 and I don’t remember things being overly racist then. People are definitely more aware of things like that these days, though.
I can’t say it was blatantly racist, but there was that underlying feeling in descriptions and motives, if that makes sense.
I have not read any of her books in a long time…not sure why.
Not an author I have ever really followed, although I read a few many years ago.