opening night

Death And The Dancing Footman by Ngaio Marsh

Death And The Dancing Footman by Ngaio Marsh was published in 1942. It is the eleventh book in Marsh’s Inspector Roderick Alleyn series.

The mischievous owner of Highfold Manor has been busy planning the ultimate weekend party. He hopes to bring together a group of people who, at best, have an uneasy relationship with each other, then sit back and enjoy the fireworks. What he doesn’t know is that it’s going to be an extremely long weekend, a weekend no one will ever forget.

I enjoyed Death And The Dancing Footman much better than my last Marsh novel, Opening Night. The women in Death And The Dancing Footman are, for one, much less stupid. Also, the dialogues are much better.

Death And The Dancing Footman is set in Highfold Manor at Dorset. As the party is all assembled there a terrible storm starts, leaving the roads deep in snow and the mansion is totally cut off from civilization. I am very fond of cosy mysteries set in isolated places with no way out.  Christie’s And Then There Were None, Evil Under the Sun and Cyril Hare’s An English Murder come to mind. But somehow I didn’t enjoy the atmosphere of Highfold Manor as much as I should have.

The mystery is good. I suspected almost everyone by turns.

The narrative does go a bit slowly. I do get that they are stuck in a snowbound mansion in the middle of nowhere. But still the time between the beginning & the crime and from the crime to its solution feels like an eternity.

Among the characters I found Jonathan Royal to be really irritating. He is childish, selfish and even harmful at times. Why would anyone want to be his friend is beyond me. Aubrey Mandrake was another childish, whiny sort of character. All the members of the Compline family are uniformly bland.

Detective Roderick Alleyn doesn’t really do much. He shows up after more than half of the book is over. He asks a few questions and solves the thing pretty easily. I’m still not sure how he hit upon the solution to the mystery.

As I have mentioned earlier the women in this book are not stupid, which is a relief for me. Almost all of them are strong characters, whether good or evil. Although I was annoyed by everyone falling in love with Chloris Wynne just because she is blonde and beautiful. She does however admit that she is not a natural blonde, which made her more likeable.

I don’t like too much romance in my mystery. One of the romances did begin to annoy me mostly because of the man but the woman sort of redeemed it.

The ending was satisfying but I do have a few qualms about the character of the murderer. I feel that the motive behind the crime abruptly changes the character of the murderer. It doesn’t really make sense.

Even though I did have some problems with Death And The Dancing Footman, I overall enjoyed the book. It is a nice, satisfying cosy mystery.

The Friday 56

The Friday 56 is a bookish meme hosted by Freda’s Voice.

*Grab a book, any book.
*Turn to page 56.
*Find any sentence that grabs you.
*Post it.
*Link up at Freda’s site

Today’s sentence comes from Opening Night by Ngaio Marsh.

“Among this growth, as if drowned in Edwardiana, Jacko’s and Martyn’s faces were reflected.”

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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