Opening Night by Ngaio Marsh

Opening Night written by Ngaio Marsh was published in 1951. Its name in the United states was Night at the Vulcan. It is the sixteenth book in Marsh’s Inspector Roderick Alleyn series.

A new play opens at the Vulcan, formerly known as the Jupiter, and by the looks of it, it is going to be a success. But before the night is over one of the leading members of the cast lies dead backstage. It looks like suicide but the memories of a past murder echoes throughout the theatre. Inspector Alleyn comes to the scene to discover all.

Opening Night constantly makes references to an Inspector Alleyn short story called I Can Find My Way Out (1946). Opening Night is in a way a sequel to that story. The two not only share the same location and setting but the murder is also inspired by the previous case. I had read The Collected Short Fiction Of Ngaio Marsh before and I Can Find My Way Out was a part of it. I picked up Opening Night without knowing the connection between the two stories and was very pleasantly surprised by the coincidence.

This is a reasonably short book. I managed to finish it very quickly.

The central mystery is good. The narrative goes on without a lot of dilly dallying. I enjoyed the crispness of it.

The book begins with lot of promise. It starts off wonderfully with Martyn Tarne coming to the Vulcan Theatre, exhausted and at her wits end. But the narrative sort of hurries to the finish line.

Martyn Tarne’s character starts out well enough. But the promise shown in the early pages fails to materialize. Her past, her desire to be an actress, it all shows the markings of a much deeper character. But she turns out to be a mere wilting wall flower type of a character. Always apologetic and sort of vacuous.

The dialogue at times gets irritating. Like in the scene between Martyn Tarne and Gay Gainsford the dialogue goes round and round and round. ‘Don’t do this to me!’ ‘I’m not doing anything to you!’ ‘You can’t do this to me!’ ‘I’m not doing that to you!’ So tedious!

The romance in the book left me feeling annoyed. All the middle aged men in the book seem to crave for younger women. The romance between two middle aged characters finally comes to an end because guess what a young virginal girl has just showed up and in just three days the man is sure he wants to marry her.

There are some ‘un-cosy’ like elements in the book such as sexual harassment, rape; etc. The rape of course is not graphic and is implied rather than shown or discussed but it is there.

Overall, Opening Night is a pretty okay mystery. But I will not be re-reading this in the future.

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