March Mystery Madness: Black As He’s Painted by Ngaio Marsh

Black as He's Painted

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

Amazon | IndieBound

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

  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

10 Comments

  1. June

    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)

    • Carol

      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.

Leave a comment