Died in the Wool

Ngaio Marsh is an author I just discovered this year, thanks to Bev’s Vintage Mystery Challenge (which she’s hosting again, by the way. Sign up here.) Died in the Wool is the third I’ve read by her, although the first that takes place in her native New Zealand.

It’s reminiscent of an English country manor mystery, although it takes place on a sheep farm. Florence Rubrick, a member of parliament and the owner of the sheep farm is found murdered after missing for three weeks, encased in a bale of her own wool. Roderick Alleyn, Marsh’s series detective, is called in by a family member to investigate after the local police have gotten nowhere in over a year. Apparently Roderick is a distant relation to the dead woman. Also, he is doing War duty in England and there is some suspicion that the death is connected to a case of espionage.

Died in the Wool was first published in 1945, right at the end of WW 2, and the war was certainly influences the plot. We have espionage, an important invention, and one of the characters is recovering from an injury he received during service, but it’s not a war story, if that makes sense. The war is not immediate, it doesn’t affect daily life, but it does show in individual’s concerns and thoughts

A flock of sheep in New Zealand, with the Tākitimu Mountains in the background.

I mentioned that this is in some ways a country manor mystery. It’s a closed environment and there is a small pool of suspects, those that live on the farm. What stood out for me, though, is that since Alleyn is called in so long after the crime was committed, he can’t rely on the standard search for concrete clues. Instead, he listens. And Alleyn is a charming, sympathetic man, rarely playing the tough cop. Each of the suspects, two nephews, a young woman who was Flossie’s Ward, and the deceased woman’s secretary now gardener, tell their version of the events and their versions of Flossie. Also, a few of the staff have a chance to tell their stories. Listening to all the doings at the household, dragging up all the secrets, Alleyn has to ferret out who the killer, and therefore spy, is.

It’s a thinking mystery.There is a little action and some danger, but mostly we have all the clues from the players themselves, in that way Marsh plays fair with the reader. We have the same information as Alleyn, but I have to admit that I just didn’t put it together. I guessed at who the bad guy was, but it was more of a feeling than a logical conclusion.

I listened to the audio version, read by Nadia May, as I did with the other Marsh’s. She’s a good narrator, and I really have stopped noticing her, just getting caught up in the story.

Ngaio Marsh is definitely on my list of must-read mystery authors, a long list I’ll grant you. The mystery is solid, the characters are well-drawn and the glimpses into how people felt and thought at the time she was writing are interesting.

Photo: Te Ara

4 out of 5 stars

Category: Mystery & Detective- Police Procedural

Purchase: Amazon or IndieBound.

Roderick Alleyn #13
First published 1945
8 hours 17 minutes

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


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