Death at the Bar by Ngaio Marsh is a traditional mystery that features her series detective, Inspector Roderick Alleyn. A prominent lawyer dies in the pub of a small coastal town in southwestern England. Notice the two ways “bar” plays into the story. He seemingly dies after being pricked by a dart, and everyone swears it must have been an accident, but of course we know it was murder. Inspector Alleyn heads down to investigate, thankful to get away from London for a while.

The first part of the book is quite clearly setting up the mystery. We meet the local townsfolk and the lawyer, Luke Watchman, who is on vacation with Sebastian Parish, an actor, and Norman Cubitt, a painter. It becomes obvious who the victim will be be as Marsh lays out all the other character’s motive for wanting him dead. And there are quite a lot of possiblities. Although the suspect list is limited to the people in the bar that night, ten individuals at the most, each has a reason for wanting Watchman dead or out of the way. There’s the local girl who is his former lover and her new beau; the guy fairly new to town who seems to have some secrets he’s holding back; Parish is due to inherit and could certainly use the money and the same goes for Cubbitt.

During the investigation phase, Marsh had me looking in all directions, and totally overlooking the obvious, which makes for a good mystery. I will say though that aside from Alleyn who I find amusing at times and his compatriot Br’er Fox who does have a shining moment here, I didn’t really care about any of the characters. It’s a good puzzle, but I wasn’t invested in the outcome. That’s not necessarily a negative, it’s just the way some mysteries feel.

3½ out of 5 stars

Category: Mystery- Police Procedural

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Roderick Alleyn #9
First published 1940
9 hours 7 minutes
Narrated by Nadia May

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