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Murder in the Murder Museum Monday

Finished reading Overture to Death, in which NIGEL COMES BACK! HI NIGEL! Alleyn is displeased to see him for some reason. DON'T YOU REMEMBER YOUR NIGEL?? He's your biggest fan! :D


Nigel is a huge dork as usual. My fondest hope for Nigel is that he eventually gets his act together enough to write a series of mystery novels "based on a real investigator" and Alleyn hates them so much but his mother loves them and is always telling her son to be more like the guy in the novels so that women will like him more. Nigel uses a picture of himself with Alleyn as his author photo and everywhere Alleyn goes people recognize him as "that fella from the books!" and try to get him to say one of Nigel's catchphrases.

This will probably not happen. I think Marsh is getting a little tired of Nigel herself. In any case, none of it happens in Overture to Death.

What happens in Overture to Death: A pair of catty middle-aged frenemies use the confessional to undermine each other and attempt to ruin several other lives through gossip, insinuation, and blackmail. One of them is shot by a booby-trapped piano, but who was the trap really set for? Scotland Yard shows up and politely persuades everyone to hand over their black hearts and terrible dreams for the sake of justice.

I normally love cattiness and small-town intrigue but this one was a bit too mean for me, and oddly heavy-handed in its treatment of most of the characters. The murder victim and her friend are both obsessed with the idea that one of them is going to marry the local vicar, and while they are both deeply unpleasant people whom I would be delighted to hate under better circumstances, the over-the-top sexual disgust they excite in practically every other character, including the narrator, is not gratifying. This kind of thing seems to turn up with some regularity in the detectivesphere, and usually it's just mildly irritating. Here it was laid on too thick for me and ate into everything else. I thought maybe the narrative about unchecked man-hunger and menopause destroying women's brains was going to get undermined somehow by the end, but it mostly doesn't; the best we get is narrative ominousness about how the smug young couple's marriage might not be that great either. It's probably going for acid social satire, but for me it didn't burn very effectively.

Troy completely fails to appear, which is a grave disappointment but not an unexpected one. We do get a taste of awkwardness in a letter at the very end, which mixes charmingly clumsy love passages with a rich buffet of misogyny as Alleyn describes the survivor-suspects. Also, I guess they are getting married in April? Congratulations, Awkward Flirtationites; don't forget to buy comprehensive corpse insurance! I know it looks expensive, but you'll thank me later.


I started watching the TV adaptation of the Alleyn books, starting with A Man Lay Dead. It wasn't bad, and of course I was delighted to see Nigel, but there are some odd choices. Most notably, Agatha Troy is part of the cast from the beginning, and apparently already knows Alleyn, whom her friends call "your inspector." The time location is also moved forward to post-1946, probably so they can compress a bunch of later mysteries into a short time. I wasn't surprised that the anarcho-Bolshevik cult was swapped out for some post-war artefact smugglers, or that Alleyn no longer ambushes anyone by hiding in a chimney. Mostly this Alleyn is Alleyn in his ideal form: a featureless and implacable obelisk of justice in a dark suit.

Even de-Bolsehviked, A Man Lay Dead has beautifully cheesy elements: there is a stabbing committed during one of those ill-advised house-party games of "Murder" in a house that is FULL of knives because the owner of the house has a knife and weapon collection on display all over his walls. There are people rummaging in drawers and faked alibis and the elaborate reconstruction of an elaborate crime. Even with all these advantages, it can be a little dull and slow, though the production values are good.

Given that they went out of their way to put Troy in the picture, I was surprised (and disappointed) by how little there was for Troy and Alleyn to do together. They aren't laboring under as severe a chemistry deficiency as poor Peter and Harriet in the Strong Poison adaptation, but they are not the beautiful overlarge sunflowers of awkwardness that they are in the books, either. Instead, they seem to have an established friendship in which Alleyn frequently looms over Troy and pushes her to do his detecting for him. There are only a few flickers of awkward flirtation here and there, and even then I'm not sure I haven't just willed them into existence.

Troy isn't quite how I pictured her, but she is likeable enough, with her tiny van and open, intelligent face. Alleyn has the immense advantage of not looking like anything in particular, so you could put pretty much anything on screen and my mind wouldn't reject it. Patrick Malahide makes an admirable justice obelisk. Inspector Fox is good. The rest of the cast are a very standard country-house-party assortment, even good old Nigel -- and actually, I would have put Troy in that category, if I didn't know who she was. If they wanted Troy from the beginning, I wonder why they didn't begin with Artists in Crime? It's just as complex a killing as AMLD, the artist characters are easier to make distinctive than this passel of posh adulterers, and we could have met Troy in her art-world milieu instead of tossing her in the bag with the rest of the lawn-tennis crowd. Oh, well.

A Man Lay Dead was a messy book that has been smoothed over for television into an attractive but unexciting House Party Murder Product. I'm curious to see what happens with some of the really excellent books, like Death in a White Tie.

The Laws of Murder is the last (so far) of the Most Comfortable Man in London series. Lenox has given up on Parliament in favor of full-time detection, and this book settles easily and comfortably into the new status quo. The murder plot is trickily mysterious and even a little creepy. There have been three corpses in the past eighty pages, but somehow Lenox's life seems cosier than ever.

Comments

( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
lost_spook
Jun. 1st, 2015 01:24 pm (UTC)
The murder victim and her friend are both obsessed with the idea that one of them is going to marry the local vicar, and while they are both deeply unpleasant people whom I would be delighted to hate under better circumstances, the over-the-top sexual disgust they excite in practically every other character, including the narrator, is not gratifying.

Yes, this is the book I hated! I am surprised at it being a Marsh, but yes. I also think it was one of the pbks I had with the lurid 1970s/80s covers that I had to put a brown jacket over because of all the OTT blood on it.

Even with all these advantages, it can be a little dull and slow, though the production values are good.

Odd, choices, yes! And it is far, far slower than a 1990s BBC production should be. Beautifully done and the guest cast in some of them is outstanding, BUT. Also, they did start with Artists in Crime as a pilot, but it isn't available because Alleyn was played by a different actor and apparently also releasing that on DVD would cause a massive explosion somewhere.

Belinda Lang is good, but unquestionably not the Troy of the books! (I wouldn't offload my impatience with these adapations on you (again) but you pin-pointed pretty much all the things I don't like about them, either.

The postwar setting is fair enough, but their tendency to use it to insert unwanted Nazis is not. Also it really stuffs up The Nursing Home Murders (which begs the question of, given how many novels there are and how few they did, why the hell they did The Nursing Home Murders at all).

I didn't know what sort of picture I had of Troy till I saw Belinda Lang being Wrong, but then realised that I see her looking quite a lot like Jan Chappell as she was in Blake's 7 (although obviously in period costume and not in amazing 1970-s spacewear). (See my icon.)

However, Patrick Malahide is good, so is the actor playing Fox and while they continue to make very strange decisions and wind up bafflingly dull while aiming for scary (in a way alien to the books), I think Final Curtain (?) and Scales of Justice were still pretty nicely done, and Hand in Glove, did have the most perfect casting with John Gielgud (even if they remorselessly shot down and killed the background romance again). (Although is Scales good, or is it just that Elizabeth Spriggs can't fail to make everything better?)

Sorry, my frustration with this adapation is because it's so well cast! It's so beautifully made (especially for the early/mid 90s)! And yet! So near but so far! And why so dull? *sigh* It's almost the perfect adapation and then it really really isn't.

It's not the same thing, but Alleyn does frequently get recognised from embarrassing newspaper articles, which makes him uncomfortable.



Edited at 2015-06-01 01:26 pm (UTC)
evelyn_b
Jun. 1st, 2015 02:32 pm (UTC)
Yes, this is the book I hated!

I thought it might be! I was surprised, too. Marsh can be unkind in passing, but she's just about the last person I would have expected to throw this kind of overheated Freudian misogyny parade. Oh, well. Everyone has their off years, I guess.

Also, they did start with Artists in Crime as a pilot, but it isn't available because Alleyn was played by a different actor and apparently also releasing that on DVD would cause a massive explosion somewhere.

This knowledge is painful to my soul :( :( :(

Feel free to offload your impatience! I'm always interested in what other people think of things I am reading or watching.

Jan Chappell looks like she could work as Troy with different hair. Belinda Lang doesn't feel very wrong to me, but the dynamic I enjoy is mostly missing here.

Alleyn does frequently get recognised from embarrassing newspaper articles, which makes him uncomfortable.

The Handsome Detective! Oh, Nigel, how can you be so Nigel?
lost_spook
Jun. 1st, 2015 03:46 pm (UTC)
My information is incorrect! Apparently things have happened in the world since I bought my DVD set and there is now a set available that does include the pilot! I don't know whether there's a R1 release, but it's the sort of thing where that's highly likely. :-)

Marsh can be unkind in passing, but she's just about the last person I would have expected to throw this kind of overheated Freudian misogyny parade.

*nods* She does, inevitably, have some of the prejudices of her time, but there's usually a much more compassionate edge to her novels that softens that even when it does occur. I had forgotten that one, but I am pretty sure there were no others in the series that left me feeling like that one. (Of course, with the usual rider about the state of my memory... ;-D)

Jan Chappell would have been too old for the role by the 90s, but when I was trying to think if I'd ever seen anyone who did fit something like my mental image of Troy, she was the one I came up with.

Nigel has done enough damage already, really. :-)
evelyn_b
Jun. 1st, 2015 09:16 pm (UTC)
Oh, good to know! I might see if there's any way to order it from Inter-Library Loan.

It probably doesn't make much of a difference since they're in Detective Stasis anyway, but it makes me a little sad to see Troy yanked out of the mid-Thirties and dropped in circa 1948. It's just -- those are different times! A lot can happen in ten years! Oh, well.
lost_spook
Jun. 2nd, 2015 08:11 am (UTC)
A lot can happen in ten years! Oh, well.

It mostly involved Nazis, apparently.

ladyherenya
Jun. 2nd, 2015 08:59 am (UTC)
I remember barely anything about Overture to Death at all (just a vague impression of the setting, and then Alleyn's line about being bound to find Troy pleasant - that's Overture to Death, isn't it?), but after reading your comments, I suspect I don't want to revisit it.

I find it really interesting that you don't seem to have opinions about Alleyn's appearance. I've never seen any of the adaptation, because a friend and I saw the cover and concluded that That Did Not Look Like Alleyn and How Dare They. I'm more accepting now of adaptations not being everything I think they should be than I was, but I haven't managed to get past my younger-self's sense of outrage to give these adaptations a go.

evelyn_b
Jun. 2nd, 2015 06:52 pm (UTC)
Alleyn saying he's bound to find Troy pleasant sounds very familiar, but maybe it's just because it's so obviously the sort of thing he'd say. I skimmed through the book looking for that bit but couldn't find it -- that's no guarantee it's not there, though.

I found the sex-crazed spinster thing pretty off-putting and heavy-handed, but there are still things to like about Overture to Death -- there are some nice internal monologues and reflections from Alleyn, which I always like to see, and some of the theatrical stuff is funny, but. . . It's definitely not one I'd put in a Ngaio Marsh starter pack.

I'm not sure why I don't have a clear picture of Alleyn -- he does get described with some specificity here and there, but to the extent I have a mental picture at all, it's just "tall guy, miscellaneous regular features." On the other hand, Miss Marple is probably described less thoroughly than Alleyn in some respects, but I have had that same NOPE, WRONG, CAN YOU EVEN READ reaction to at least two screen Marples. What did you think was wrong about Malahide's face, out of curiosity?
ladyherenya
Jun. 6th, 2015 01:33 pm (UTC)
I checked - I thought he said he was bound to find Troy pleasant because she'd agreed to marry him, but instead it's "I think her very pleasant indeed [...] I have persuaded her to say she will marry me." It's right at the end.

What would you put in a Marsh starter part? I'd be tempted to include the ones with Troy in them - but that wouldn't give someone an accurate idea of what the rest of them are like. And I don't think she's in any of the theatre ones.

I want to say that I imagine Alleyn looking more distinguished, but I don't quite know what I mean by that, so that's not very helpful. The receding hairline is the most obvious "wrong" thing, mainly for the way it then emphasises his forehead, and his eyebrows are too light. He has a more severe face than I imagine Alleyn having - I think it's the shape of his brows and the way his eyes are set, and maybe also the size of his mouth? It just looks like a face that could scowl too easily, or could be easily misinterpreted as scowling too easily, rather than a face that puts people at ease.

I guess I don't so much have a strong idea of what Alleyn looks like, as I have a strong idea of how others react to his face. And my reaction to Malahide's face didn't match.
evelyn_b
Jun. 6th, 2015 04:37 pm (UTC)
It just looks like a face that could scowl too easily, or could be easily misinterpreted as scowling too easily, rather than a face that puts people at ease.

That seems fair enough!

As a Marsh starter pack, I think Vintage Murder + Artists in Crime + Death in a White Tie would be a good combination, though they might create the impression that Troy is more ubiquitous than she actually is. Otherwise, you get all the best Marsh elements: witty writing, theatrical murders, deeply uncomfortable interviews, New Zealand. I might be tempted to throw in Death in Ecstasy for a little bonus topical weirdness and Nigel.

I started with Died in the Wool and it's still one of my favorites, but structurally it's pretty off-model because the corpse turns up right away.

Troy has a supporting role in A Wreath for Rivera, which is sort of theatre-adjacent, but it's not one of my favorites.
ladyherenya
Jun. 14th, 2015 03:55 pm (UTC)
I realised I hadn't read ever Vintage Murder, and borrowed it from the library. It contains a lot of things Marsh does very well and I really enjoyed it - more than I was expecting to, since I was somewhat lukewarm about the last Marsh mystery I read. So thank you for that unintentional recommendation!

I had decided I wasn't going to bother looking for the Marsh mysteries I haven't read, but I'm reconsidering that. I'd forgotten how much I like reading about Alleyn interviewing people - the last one (well, second last one now) I read had a lot less of that.

I agree now that Vintage Murder would be a possible Troy-free starting point.

I had to look up what A Wreath for Rivera was - the edition I've got is called Swing, Brother, Swing. Not one of my favourites, either.
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