Title: Vintage Murder (Inspector Alleyn #5)
Author: Ngaio Marsh
First published: 1937
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Death served well-chilled
The leading lady of a theater company touring New Zealand was stunningly beautiful. No one-including her lover-understood why she married the company’s pudgy producer. But did she rig a huge jeroboam of champagne to kill her husband during a cast party?
Did her sweetheart? Or was another villain waiting in the wings? On a holiday down under, Inspector Roderick Alleyn must uncork this mystery and uncover a devious killer…
I was having trouble deciding what to read. I’m halfway through a couple of books and just kinda stuck. I was sitting in the chair and happened to see this on the bookshelf, so I pulled it off. Marsh rarely disappoints me.
Vintage Murder comes pretty early in the series. Alleyn is in New Zealand recovering from something or other, but none of these fictional detectives can actually have vacations. He happens to be travelling in the same train as a theater group. He ends up becoming friendly with them, goes to see the shoe and at the party afterwards someone is of course killed – by a giant bottle of champagne no less.
Marsh is one of the original Queens of Crime, but she also loved the theater, and her thorough knowledge of the theater people and the actual stage mechanics are on display here. Alleyn is her series character, an intelligent likeable man, but she also manages to give the secondary characters full personalities. They are a rather colorful cast, and of course all of them are potential suspects.
One thing I like about Marsh, besides knowing what to expect from her books, is her descriptions. She has an eye for detail, whether it be the landscape or suspects reactions during interrogations. I do wish Alleyn would fill us in on what he’s thinking along the way, but the explanation at the end pulls it all together.
The one negative probably comes from the era when it was written. A bit of Maori culture was included, but more as an interesting piece of the puzzle than a true interest. And the Maori people themselves are portrayed as barely civilized. But the 30s could be rather racist and sexist.
Even though this is the 5th in the series, it definitely works as a stand-alone or out of order, which is how I’ve been reading them.