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Malevolent Marine Mammals of Murder Monday

The time has come. . .
KILLER

. . .to tell you I was WRONG. There is a killer dolphin in Killer Dolphin! It's just that it's a bronze statuette somebody used as a murder weapon, rather than a living (killer) animal. This is a theater mystery with several interesting cranks, a restored Victorian theater full of lovingly described kitsch and velvet, an alleged relic of Shakespeare, and lots of gossip. The immediate means of solving the mystery is a bit of a cheat, but not so that it matters very much.

Killer Dolphin has some of Marsh's best caricatures and one of her weakest, plus a version of the recurring Repulsive Child Performer character I like, plus an eccentric millionaire with a dark secret whose sexuality everyone spends an unseemly amount of time arguing about. This book takes place ostensibly in the present (1966), represented by oblique references to the Beatles and direct ones to TV, but you'd never notice it otherwise. Marsh seems to be doubling down on use of "ejaculated" as a dialogue tag as the century wears on.

I would be remiss if I didn't quote you this brush with Irrefutable Face Science:




He gazed fixedly into Alleyn's face. "I studied physiognomy," he surprisingly said. "When I was in New York" — for a moment he looked hideously put out but instantly recovered — "I met a most distinguished authority — Earl P. Van Smidt — and I became seriously interested in the science. I have studied and observed and I have proved my conclusions. Over and again. I have completely satisfied myself — but com-pletely — that when you see a pair of unusually round eyes, rather far apart, very light blue and without depth — look out. Look out!" he repeated and flung himself into the chair he had vacated.

"What for?" Alleyn inquired.

"Treachery. Shiftiness. Utter unscrupulousness. Complete lack of ethical values. I quote from Van Smidt."

"Dear me."

Note the wide-spaced eyes of unscrupulousness are light blue here, rather than dark blue as in Tey. Maybe one's eyes darken when malice is tempered by the false generosity of nymphomania. Later, Fox comments:

"Do you reckon Knight believes all that about Grove? Being a homicidal type? All that stuff about pale eyes etcetera. Because," Fox said with great emphasis, "it's all poppycock: there aren't any facial characteristics for murder. What's that you're always quoting about there being no art to find the mind's construction in the face? I reckon it's fair enough where homicide's concerned. Although," Fox added, opening his own eyes very wide, "I always fancy there's a kind of look about sex offenders of a certain type. That I will allow."



But what about Dead Water? It's ok, too, thought I think this is the second book in which Marsh gives a character epilepsy without quite seeming to know what epilepsy is. The small town-turned spiritual tourist trap stuff gets shoved aside in favor of some less appealing drama, but it all comes together in the end, if a little sloppily. There's our stalwart companion the Hysterical Sex-Starved Spinster, plus the requisite non-hysterical spinster for balance, unhappy wives, the choleric military retiree, the hapless clergyman, and the Nice Young Couple who shudder a little at the unlovely neuroses of their elders but decide to make a go of marriage anyway, it being a new generation with improved mores and all. It's been thirty years since the first Inspector Alleyn mystery; the Nice Young Couples of the early books have since ripened into today's middle-aged cautionary tales (but Alleyn hasn't aged a bit as far as anyone can tell). In the end, Alleyn introduces Fox to his old Foreign Service French tutor, who offers to help him with his French.

A trivial fact: I think I've now read more novels by Ngaio Marsh than by any other single author, with the possible exception of Ann M. Martin whose singleness is a little ambiguous. Eventually, unless the unforeseen happens and I get bored with the Extended Murderverse, Agatha Christie will have her beat, but this hasn't happened yet and won't for a while.

The nice thing about Ngaio Marsh is that almost any book in her catalog can stand as an example of what's appealing about Ngaio Marsh. The first few books are awkward, with uncertain characterization and bad action scenes and Bolshevik anarchist menaces, but once she hits her stride (around Vintage Murder) there are very few weak links; she's a remarkably consistent writer. If you like the Marsh formula, there's enough of it to keep you busy for a long time, and if you don't, it should be clear after a book or two.

KILLER DOLPHIN was #24, so if Marsh is going to go into a decline, she has eight more books in which to do it. Is it going to happen? I'm going to bet on "not very much."

What's next: It's time to catch up with Sherlock Holmes in the Adventure of the Opinionated Footnotes! And possibly some other things, too. The next Marsh book is Clutch of Constables, but I probably won't get to it right away.

Comments

( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
lost_spook
May. 9th, 2016 09:14 am (UTC)
The face science refutation is lovely. Take that, Tey! :lol:

The next Marsh book is Clutch of Constables, but I probably won't get to it right away.

Clutch of Constables is the Troy book where she goes on holiday and finds a murderer. :-)
evelyn_b
May. 9th, 2016 07:53 pm (UTC)
Clutch of Constables is the Troy book where she goes on holiday and finds a murderer. :-)

:D

I mean, oh no. . .

osprey_archer
May. 9th, 2016 01:51 pm (UTC)
I love Alleyn's deadpan response to the phrenologist's impassioned denunciation of people with wide-spaced round light blue eyes. The phrenologist is going all "Listen to them - the children of the night!" about it, and Alleyn's just like, "Dear me."

I've noticed there's often a time lag between the time that a novel is published and ostensibly set, and the time that it actually feels like within the novel. Ngaio Marsh and Agatha Christie both seem to write in the perpetual 1930s, and a lot of teen novels today seem to take place in a world curiously devoid of internet usage or cell phones.
evelyn_b
May. 9th, 2016 08:56 pm (UTC)
I foolishly typed up a long comment about timeline problems into this comment box, and then my browser crashed. It's just as well; they're not actually "problems" so much as a convention.

If we assume that publication date and story date are the same, Alleyn and Fox are in their 70s now, but we can't assume a one-to-one correspondence because that would mean that Alleyn's son was born in 1949 or 1950 and was six years old in 1953.

But now I'm committing the classic fallacy of paying way more attention to dates than the author ever did, just like the Annotated Holmes footnotes.

I know I was incredibly hostile as a child to any juvenile media that was "trying to be cool," so maybe that's a worry? anything that takes place in the "real world" in the immediate present is a potential site for cringeworthy grandpa gaffes, whereas with AUs and fantasy realms, or the past, who can tell if you're getting everything painfully wrong or not? this reticence about cell phones may be more a feature for teen novels than a bug.

(I think the perpetual 30s are a little less true of Agatha Christie than people tend to think. Third Girl doesn't feel displaced in time to me, for example, except for the incongruous presence of Poirot which would be almost as incongruous in any age)
osprey_archer
May. 10th, 2016 01:23 am (UTC)
I also disliked media that attempted to be cool, so possibly that's a common enough reaction to scare authors off? I think trying to replicate slang, in particular, is a bad idea: it changes so quickly that a book is almost certain to be dated soon after publication (if it isn't dated even before it's published), and that's assuming the author got it right in the first place.

I've been mulling over the cell phone/internet issue because I've been working on a teen novel myself, and on the one hand, I think they probably would be on the internet much more than I've talked about in the book... but on the other hand, surfing the internet is just not an inherently dramatic activity. I'd much rather have the characters have their heated emotional exchanges face to face than over Facebook, purely because that seems more interesting.
liadtbunny
May. 9th, 2016 03:02 pm (UTC)
Hurrah the dolphin and French heirs to the throne are innocent!

Will Fox become a killer if his eyes remain too wide for too long?
evelyn_b
May. 9th, 2016 08:59 pm (UTC)
I hope not! Fox would hate that. :(

Actually, "detective is forced to bring his long-time partner in for murder" might be an interesting entry in a detective series. That sounds like something that might happen to Philip Marlowe, poor guy, if he were ever foolish enough to take on a partner. :(
liadtbunny
May. 10th, 2016 02:21 pm (UTC)
Time to squint:) And the Drs were so concerned about mine;p

And the partner would end up murdering Marlowe's true love too!
a_phoenixdragon
May. 10th, 2016 10:02 pm (UTC)
*HUGS*
evelyn_b
May. 10th, 2016 11:46 pm (UTC)
Hey, congratulations, by the way!
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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