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Idle Young Men of Murder Monday

The opening chapter of Death of a Peer by Ngaio Marsh made my heart leap: a New Zealand setting, my favorite! We get another clear and piercing description of driving into the mountains, and meet the Lampreys, a large, likable, and ungainly aristocratic family with messy and confusing finances. I couldn't help but feel a little let down when the Lampreys moved to England in the second chapter, and the next thing we hear is that it's four years later and the POV character, Roberta, is heading to England herself. The rest of the book will probably take place in England, though I can always hope for a fact-finding mission to the antipodes.

In any case, Marsh's descriptions of London as experienced by a New Zealander arriving for the first time are almost as good as her New Zealand landscape settings. The Lampreys are very predictably broke, thanks to a lifetime of bad decisions and terrible planning, and their stingy uncle is rich, which makes it extra awkward for everyone when he is murdered suddenly and horribly in their building's elevator, immediately after threatening to write them out of his will.

The Lampreys are such a charming and frustrating crew (they remind me a lot of the Rostovs in War and Peace) that it is sad to think of all the unpleasant secrets that are going to fall out of them in the face of routine questioning, but it's got to happen. Scotland Yard has just shown up in its usual form, and Inspector Alleyn has been politely reassuring them all that murder investigations are a very straightforward matter, nothing at all like the sort of thing you see in detective fiction. Alleyn, wishing doesn't make it so! Why don't you tell these nice suspects the truth?

Police At the Funeral by Margery Allingham:

“When one man is following another, however discreet may be the pursuer or the pursued, the act does not often pass unnoticed in the streets of London.”

Police At the Funeral has a great title, and a pretty great opening line (above), followed by an almost-equally-great opening chapter in which we learn that you can't damn well go anywhere in London without running into one of these chirpy Drones Club cast-offs pretending to be Sherlock Holmes. It's a bloody epidemic, is what it is. I have not gotten very far in this book yet. Someone's uncle is missing (and we are treated to a long description of an uncomfortably eccentric elderly family) and then the uncle turns up dead in a canal. Very promising! The body was found by "two Indian students," so my ears are pricked for gratuitous drive-by racism in the near future, but hopefully it won't be too bad? I don't know; Allingham is still an unknown quantity.

My immediate reaction on meeting Mr. Campion was to think, "Oh no, not another one!" but on reflection, the Upper Class Twit mode of detection may not be as common as I thought. Alleyn is upper class, but not a twit; Inspector Grant is classist, but not upper-class (I think); Philo Vance is an anglophilic American Twit Novus. But Mr. Campion is, or appears to be, the genuine article. He has even gone to the trouble of acquiring a deerstalker cap for maximum raffishness, though to his credit he takes it off when the matter shows signs of becoming serious.

(A brief research detour re: deerstalker caps brought me this important caution from Wikipedia:

"Later, less-informed depictions of Holmes have him wearing this cap in the city failing to take into account the fact that the fashion-conscious Holmes would be loath to commit such a sartorial faux pas; the deerstalker is traditionally a rural outdoorsman's cap. It is not appropriate headgear for the properly dressed urban gentleman.")

Well, it isn't.

Comments

( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
lost_spook
Aug. 10th, 2015 04:49 pm (UTC)
:loL: Not a good day to be an uncle??

And, yay, just as I was wondering which book Death of a Peer actually was, I realised it was in fact A Surfeit of Lampreys (minus points to the US branch of whichever publishing house for changing that one to something so uninspired!), which is my favourite. This is because it was my first Ngaio Marsh and it saw me through a stomach ache one evening & I am unreasonably fond of it, Robin and the Lampreys as a result. It's probably why I'm not that bothered if Alleyn takes a while to turn up, too.

I hope both books prove to be enjoyable - but at least you have your full quota of horrible deaths for uncles for the day. ;-)
evelyn_b
Aug. 10th, 2015 05:02 pm (UTC)
A Surfeit of Lampreys is a much better title -- I wonder why the US publishers felt it necessary to change it? And I totally understand now why you don't mind the long pre-murder setups, if this was your first Marsh: the introduction of murder and a Scotland Yard investigator actually feels (semi-realistically) disruptive here, probably because I would have been happy to read a whole book about Robin and her adorable wastrel friends in which no murder occurred and Inspector Alleyn did not appear at all.

It's been a bad weekend for uncles, certainly! (and I'm pretty sure that picturing him as the Fifth Doctor is giving Mr. Campion an unfair advantage re: my affections).
lost_spook
Aug. 10th, 2015 07:50 pm (UTC)
But it didn't have 'death' in it! The marketing person was afraid people might not realise that Ngaio Marsh had written another murder! Yes, I don't know. But probably something like that.

I'm pretty sure that picturing him as the Fifth Doctor is giving Mr. Campion an unfair advantage re: my affections

Heh, and this is a bad thing because...?
evelyn_b
Aug. 10th, 2015 08:16 pm (UTC)
It's not a bad thing -- just an observation I thought you might appreciate. <3 Unfair advantages for everyone! (and celery! You can't expect they'll let you into the Celery Club without a sprig of celery on your jacket, my man -- it simply isn't done).

And I guess it's hard enough to get Americans interested in marine biology without throwing complicated Britishy words like "surfeit" into the mix. (a KILLER DOLPHIN!, on the other hand, is just the thing). After all, we're the nation that couldn't be trusted to read Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone because philosophy is hard! and isn't this supposed to be a book about wizards??
lost_spook
Aug. 11th, 2015 08:50 am (UTC)
Indeed. (You, er, do know that he was also Tristan Farnon from All Creatures, don't you? ;-D)

nd I guess it's hard enough to get Americans interested in marine biology without throwing complicated Britishy words like "surfeit" into the mix. (a KILLER DOLPHIN!, on the other hand, is just the thing).

The Killer Dolphin is still brilliant! And it does sometimes happen the other way around, to be fair, although a lot of those (that I know of) are where things have different meanings/could be confused with another popular thing with the same/similar title. We are less put off by quotes and marine biology!! Possibly...?

Yes, because the Philospher's Stone isn't at all a legendary artefact that people might have heard of. Still, we shouldn't be hard on these marketing people, really. They're just trying to do their job!
evelyn_b
Aug. 11th, 2015 08:15 pm (UTC)
Is that based on the James Herriot books? I didn't know there was a TV show!
lost_spook
Aug. 11th, 2015 08:22 pm (UTC)
Yes, indeed, it is. It's a very nice TV show, though it can be a little dull. (Basically, Christopher Timothy who plays James is nothing to write home about but they cast Robert Hardy and Peter Davison as Siegfried and Tristan and so all the Siegfried and Tristan bits are just golden.)

Or, in short, if nothing else, Tristan gifs are well worth searching for. ;-)

(As ever, Theme tune!)
evelyn_b
Aug. 11th, 2015 09:04 pm (UTC)
That looks like just the thing I want to watch today, while I have to sit around feeling vaguely feverish and keep my foot up. Loads of misty hilly landscapes and big friendly dogs everywhere. What a serendipitous link!

ETA Ok, so I was lured in by friendly dogs and by the time I got to the BOTCHED COW C-SECTION it was too late to turn back, but I'm still enjoying it. Maybe the cow will be ok?? I have to find out if this one dog is going to recover from pneumonia.

Edited at 2015-08-11 09:32 pm (UTC)
lost_spook
Aug. 12th, 2015 08:35 am (UTC)
Aw, glad to be of use! It certainly is a nice thing to watch when feeling not so well. I hope all the animals were okay! (Bad things do happen occasionally, but mostly it's fairly light. Well, you know if you know the books.)

ETA: I also hope you're feeling better, too!

Edited at 2015-08-12 08:36 am (UTC)
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )

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