Title: Photo Finish (Inspector Alleyn #31)

Author: Ngaio Marsh

Published: 1980

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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Murder in High C …

A persistent paparazzi has hounded operatic soprano Isabella Sommita until her nerves are at the breaking point. Now her millionaire boyfriend, Montague Reece, has whisked her to a New Zealand island to recover. There she plans a performance of an aria written just for her– by her secret young lover, who, along with a bevy of envious celebrities, is also on the island. It’s the perfect set-up for grand opera– wild passions…and bloody murder. And when the great singer is found dead, a photo on her bosom, Superintendent Roderick Alleyn must find out who did the diva in…

Photo Finish is the second to last in Marsh’s Alleyn series and one of only a few set fully in her native New Zealand. Alleyn is on a busman’s holiday. His wife, Agatha Troy, has been invited to New Zealand to paint the diva, Isabella Sommita, and she is thrilled. Alleyn goes along at Reece’s request, to see if he can find out anything about this photographer who is stalking the Sommita. Of course, Alleyn also has a secondary purpose for going, the British have asked him to poke around a little, see if he can find any connection between the pair and the international drug trade.

As I’ve said before, I enjoy Marsh’s books most when the suspects and victim are enclosed, whether it be in an English cottage, or in this case a mansion in New Zealand cut off from the rest of the world for about 24 hours by a storm. The house is full of suspects, from the disillusioned lover to the boyfriend or even the Italian who seems to know everything and everyone. There’s also a bit of evidence that the photographer is actually hanging about, but Alleyn suspects the killer is one of the Sommita’s circle or entourage.

Marsh doesn’t always play fair with her readers; Alleyn will sometimes share his thoughts on the case with his wife or the doctor assisting him without the reader being let in on the conversation. Overall though, it’s a standard mystery. And I mean that in a good way. She portions out the clues, throws in a few red herrings, gives us some possible motives. I thought the solution was slightly melodramatic, but I guess that fits an opera singer’s death.

Thoroughly enjoyable.

Challenge: WAYR

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