false scentTitle: False Scent (Roderick Alleyn #21)

Author: Ngaio Marsh

Published: 1959

Category: Mystery

Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

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Purchase: Amazon | IndieBound

In a poisonous cloud of spray, the curtain falls on a drama queen. Little did beloved British actress Mary Bellamy know that she would be done in at her own birthday party-choked by toxic mist from the bottle of “Slaypest,” a deadly insecticide. Basking in the glow of her most adoring fans-who all happened to be her most duplicitous enemies-Mary would make her final performance. When Superintendent Roderick Alleyn arrives, he smells a rat amongst the contemptuous collection of theatre types detained at the party, for this case has the unmistakable scent of murder…

Mary is quite a diva and at the beginning of the book she is imaging what her funeral will be like. she doesn’t want to die and isn’t expecting to, she’s just relishing the thought of who all will attend, who will be devastated, how many people will say she influenced their life and art. But the reader knows this is a murder mystery and has a pretty good feeling that she’s going to be the one who ends up dead.

One of Marsh’s passions was the theater, and the cast of suspects in this quite naturally includes several theater folk, including Mary’s dresser, a starlet, a director, a writer, all have their reasons for hating Mary. Each of these theatrical people have a “type” but they’re not really stereotypes, if that makes sense. They have their roles, but they have traits and quirks that make them three-dimensional. They all openly admire her, hiding their resentments, but Mary is not an easy woman to work with or live with. She’s temperamental and prone to rages.

This feels like a typical Marsh novel. We get the introduction of all the various characters well before the murder and Alleyn’s entry. In a lot of current mysteries, the body/crime is discovered early in the first chapter; here we have to wait until page 80-something for death and the detective’s entrance. Roderick Alleyn is Marsh’s series detective, upper class, intelligent, well-mannered. Really a good, likeable man.

I like Marsh when she sticks with small settings, and a limited cast. Here, all the action takes place in one day, and really only occurs in about three rooms in Mary’s home and one room in the neighboring bookstore. It’s almost claustrophobic, with the people being held in the home while Alleyn does his questioning. I can imagine sitting with all the others, not sure what’s going on, suspecting one of them is the murderer. By the end of the evening, Alleyn has his murderer. I have to admit that maybe I should have seen the whodunnit coming, but I didn’t. I get caught up in the story; I’m not trying to solve the mystery.

We’ve got suspects and red herrings, sneaking around and listening at closed doors, a bit of a romance. At 212 pages, it’s an enjoyable little mystery. A traditional cozy. I was a bit disappointed by the motive, however. Even for that particular killer, I can think of better motives than the one suggested, but that’s really a minor complaint.

And in the end: “Miss Bellany’s funeral was everything that she would have wished.”

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

Challenge: WAYR, VM, TBR


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