Death of a Fool by Ngaio Marsh

Death of a Fool by Ngaio Marsh Death of a Fool by Ngaio Marsh
Series: Roderick Alleyn #19
Published by Felony & Mayhem Press on November 15, 2014 (first published 1957)
Source: Purchased
Genres: Vintage Mystery
Pages: 281
Format: eBook
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three-half-stars

The village of South Mardian always observes the winter solstice with an ancient, mystical sword dance--complete with costumed performers. This year, however, the celebration turns into an execution when one of the dancers is murdered. Now Inspector Alleyn has to perform some nimble steps of his own to solve the case.

Death of a Fool takes place around the winter solstice. In South Mardian, a sword dance/fertility ritual/mummer play is performed every year, but this time, the fool (the father) is actually beheaded. I don’t know anything about English folk dances, but the dance featured in Death of a Fool is interesting. Granted, it’s a fictional dance, but the author tells us that she did use elements from a variety of traditional dances. Reading about the rehearsals, the performance, the costume and the history was fun. The dance is performed by the elderly blacksmiths, his five sons and a couple of other village men. They are also the most obvious suspects, especially the sons as they were the ones with the sword during the dance. Of course, the other performers have motives too. There are so many reasons to kill the old man: anger revenge, money, and just to get him out of the way.

Alleyn is called in to investigate. In a small town, everybody knows everybody’s secrets, but no one wants to tell the cops. The clues are well-done, they make sense, even if I didn’t catch them all. I liked all the characters, too, especially Dame Alice Mardian, the ninety-plus year old village matriarch. She’s smart and funny and clearly is enjoying being up close to the investigation. There’s also a young couple in love, as is often the case in Marsh’s mysteries. The romance is always in the background, but does provide some motive.

When I can’t figure out what I want to read, I always turn to vintage mysteries. They always entertain me and I know what to expect from them. But there aren’t any curse words, the violence is off-stage, the detectives are quirky, but aren’t that dark, depressing type that are often in modern mysteries. And they always figure out who the bad guy, even if they don’t always end up arrested.

What should be next on my reading list?

About Ngaio Marsh

Dame Ngaio Marsh (23 April 1895 – 18 February 1982), born Edith Ngaio Marsh, was a New Zealand crime writer and theatre director. She was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1966.

Internationally Marsh is known primarily for her creation Inspector Roderick Alleyn, a gentleman detective who works for the Metropolitan Police (London). Thus she is one of the “Queens of Crime” alongside Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Gladys Mitchell, and Margery Allingham.

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