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Is This a Murder I See Before Me Monday

What I've Given Up on For Now

I gave up on The Fifth Law of Hawkins by Charles Durden, the last book in my Mystery Bundle, about thirty pages in. Maybe if the back cover hadn't promised me a narrator full of "undeniable charm," I would have lasted longer. Hawkins' "charm" seems to consist entirely in rude remarks followed by the announcement that you can't be annoyed because Hawkins is an Equal Opportunity Offender! It's important to insult as many people as you can, he explains, after the female lead raises an eyebrow at a labored joke about how the Welsh can't spell, because we all need to learn to take ourselves less seriously, man. This may have been the cutting edge of humor in 1990, when this book was published, but man is mortal and sometimes we have to leave the past behind whether we want to or not.

Anyway, there were almost six hundred pages left to go and I couldn't face that much Hawkins. If anyone comes here and assures me that The Fifth Law of Hawkins is actually a masterpiece and I need to give it another chance, I'll consider giving it another chance.

What I've Finished Reading


Photo Finish never turned into a story about horse racing, but it did [SPOILER]accumulate a lot of international Mafia conspiracies, from which it suffers surprisingly little. Alleyn is appropriately skeptical of our old friend, The Un-British Murder (the method of death is too "Mediterranean" to be one of our practical Commonwealthers!) but sometimes in spite of your skepticism, it turns out that Spooky Foreigners Did It after all. The book works anyway, for all the reasons Marsh books usually work: theatre people being theatrical, bonus New Zealand scenery, polite but implacable interrogations. Alleyn and Troy spend a lot of time together in this one, which is nice because Troy will hardly show up at all in Light Thickens.

Light Thickens is the perfect final book in one sense, and a curiously unsatisfying one in another. The satisfaction comes from the rich, affectionate theatre setting and the author's appreciation of Shakespeare and Macbeth. This would be fun to read any day, but it's even more enjoyable following so close on Wyrd Sisters, an equally loving tribute in a different key. Marsh brings her best writing to the table here, and all the insights of her long career as a director and producer, for a story that's much more about the challenges and rewards of staging a long-established play (with more than its share of traditions and superstitions) than it is about who killed a guy in the middle of it all. In fact, the murder doesn't break in until the book is nearly two-thirds over - so late that you begin to think maybe this time there won't be a murder and everyone can just go about their day. Inspector Alleyn even attends a performance with nothing untoward happening! That must have felt a little strange to Inspector Alleyn.

The dissatisfaction comes from [a very major spoiler that you should not read]the killer turning out to be a madman. It's not completely unfair play, because he is a member of the survivor-suspect cast throughout, but it still feels like cheating to have the killer turn out to actually be the guy who's been muttering to himself about his super-accurate replica sword's dark sword powers this whole time, and his only motive that the sword wanted it, even if other people are arguably responsible for agitating him. If I had to guess, I'd say Marsh liked the cast she'd assembled too much to want to make any of them a killer in his right mind. Overall, this is as witty and energetic as anything Marsh has written, with just enough extra weight to make it feel conclusive (though mercifully, [hardly even a spoiler]Alleyn does NOT die).

And just like that, the Inspector Alleyn series is over. I can't say it's been a rollercoaster ride, because it's been the opposite of a rollercoaster ride - our consummate professionals Marsh and Alleyn wouldn't have it any other way. I can't say it's over too soon, either - or too late, for that matter. But it's been a lot of fun, and I'm so glad I stuck with it after my initial "where is your personality, detective?" confusion and the rocky first books. Alleyn's a good egg, and I wish him a long, peaceful, corpse-free retirement in his mysterious eddy of ageless time.

What I'm Reading Now

Nothing at all! Can you imagine? It was going to be The Fifth Law of Hawkins, but now the future is wide open. The other day, I paged through a book called The Defective Detective in the Pulps (about fictional detectives with physical deformities and disabilities). It looks interesting, but I haven't decided if I'm going to read it now or later.

What I Plan to Read Next

What's next after Ngaio Marsh? I have a little stack that includes a Gladys Mitchell novel, Watson's Choice, and The Good Detective by H. R. F. Keating, which I bought from a thrift store because of the title. And this paper conspiracy thing, still.

Comments

( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
osprey_archer
Sep. 26th, 2016 02:46 pm (UTC)
I can't believe you've finished the Marshes! What will you do next? Where will life be without a steady infusion of Inspector Alleyn's implacability?

I suppose you have enough Christie to keep you going for a while, though, so that's something at least.

I really enjoyed Light Thickens when I read it (although, yes, the *spoiler* is a bit of a disappointing cop-out on the murderer). Is this the one with the child actor who father or grandfather was a murderer - possibly the murderer in The Nursing Home Murders? - and one of the other character goes muttering on about heritable murderous impulses, only it turns out that the child had nothing to do with it?

I remember thinking it was an interesting reversal of some of Marsh's dodgier attitudes about heredity in her early books (which were after all written in the thirties, when dodgy attitudes about heredity were fashionable).
evelyn_b
Sep. 26th, 2016 10:33 pm (UTC)
BEREFT is where life will be! Bereft! I thought about putting it off so that I'd still have backup Alleyns in case of emergency, but couldn't convince myself to do it. And Christie will certainly keep me supplied for a while yet.

Is this the one with the child actor who father or grandfather was a murderer - possibly the murderer in The Nursing Home Murders? - and one of the other character goes muttering on about heritable murderous impulses, only it turns out that the child had nothing to do with it?

That's the one! Although I don't think the murder case is connected with the one in TNHM at all; it's a serial killer with a different name and MO. That plotline does seem like a rejection of Hereditary Murder theories.


liadtbunny
Sep. 26th, 2016 03:16 pm (UTC)
I guess you haven't done too badly out of your mystery bundle 1 out of 4(?) ain't bad. Charmless and obnoxious sounds a better description.

I hope The Defective Detectives goes well and you don't end up lobbing it across the room.
evelyn_b
Sep. 26th, 2016 10:40 pm (UTC)
Two out of six! I didn't finish A Forest of Eyes or Hawkins, finished but didn't understand HARDMAN, finished and enjoyed The Crooknose Mystery and Dead Man's Knock, finished and was ambivalent about Tancredi.

I thought at the start of Hawkins that I would be impressed if I ended up liking the narrator, but I'm not invested enough to wait around and see if it happens.
liadtbunny
Sep. 27th, 2016 02:01 pm (UTC)
I almost want to read some HARDMAN just so I can write fic bemoaning how terribly misunderstood he is, woe!
evelyn_b
Sep. 27th, 2016 04:51 pm (UTC)
Poor HARDMAN. Not only is he misunderstood in canon (probably), he is even misunderstood on a meta level. I can't exactly say DO IT because I suspect they aren't very good books. But you have a good chance of understanding them better than I did! I don't think they're actually that confusing; I just kept dozing off and suddenly we were in a shootout.
liadtbunny
Sep. 28th, 2016 03:06 pm (UTC)
I am probably more familiar with the average 70s hardman than you, 'though that's nothing to be proud of. I'm reading a Callan novel (he's proper 'ard) at the mo' and he has feelings - he feels bad about killing people, but he does it anyway or else the boss will kill his best mate.
lost_spook
Sep. 26th, 2016 04:33 pm (UTC)
It's important to insult as many people as you can, he explains, after the female lead raises an eyebrow at a labored joke about how the Welsh can't spell

Argh, no. Oh dear. Well, at least you had the pleasure of the bundle and some covers and things!

How sad to be at the end of Alleyn, though. For me, anyway; I've really enjoyed following your read through them! ;-)

I suppose in a Macbeth mystery it actually ought to be the mad person who's been muttering about swords (or daggers)? Maybe?

I wish him a long, peaceful, corpse-free retirement in his mysterious eddy of ageless time.

This will never happen. People will just get murdered in front of him in the retirement home. Murder never takes a holiday or retires! Even if authors do.
evelyn_b
Sep. 26th, 2016 11:40 pm (UTC)
I wish I could convey to you just how labored the joke is! (I don't have the book anymore). Hawkins has to go out of his way to request that the town name he overhears in passing (not the town he's going to, just a neighboring town) be spelled out for him, specifically so he can make the hilarious and trenchant observation that Welsh orthography is different from English orthography and LOL DIVERSITY INITIATIVES R OUT OF CONTROL AMIRITE? those wacky welsh sure do need to learn to spell! It's very 1990, somehow.

Overall, the bundle was a success! Hawkins at the end was a disappointment, but it was still $2 well spent.

I'm sad to be at the end! I knew I would be, but. . .

I can't help feeling that if anyone ought to be able to escape the Curse of the Detective Who Tries to Retire, it's Alleyn. At least he can get his murder load reduced to one per five years? One a year?
lost_spook
Sep. 27th, 2016 08:21 am (UTC)
Unfortunately, terrible jokes about the Welsh and the Welsh language by the English are for all time and never bode well. (Lighten up, Wales! Why don't you find this stuff funny, we've been practising it on you for at least 500 years?)

It's not a bad price just for a couple of decent books and the pleasure of unwrapping, really. :-)

I can't help feeling that if anyone ought to be able to escape the Curse of the Detective Who Tries to Retire, it's Alleyn. At least he can get his murder load reduced to one per five years? One a year?

True! I'm sure he can manage just the very odd occasion these days, or maybe even mild cases of theft or something, because detectives can so rarely completely retire.
wordsofastory
Sep. 26th, 2016 05:08 pm (UTC)
I really like your review of Light Thickens. I was also very disappointed by the resolution of the mystery, but since it's the only Marsh I've read, I didn't know if that was typical of her writing or not. It's nice to know that it's not, and I should read other books by her in the future.
evelyn_b
Sep. 26th, 2016 11:56 pm (UTC)
It's not her usual MO, no! There are a couple more, I think, where the solution is in a similar vein, but usually not to the same extent as in LT. Mostly the murderers have the kinds of motives you would want a murderer in a mystery to have.

I hope you do read some more Ngaio Marsh books! I'd love to hear what you think. They're almost all solid and Alleyn is pleasantly competent. I don't recommend starting at the very beginning - Vintage Murder or Artists in Crime are about where the series finds its feet.

Of course, if you read a few more and don't like them, you can give it up with no regrets - the general Marsh pattern doesn't change very much imo.
wordsofastory
Oct. 6th, 2016 06:15 pm (UTC)
Thank you for the rec! I'll keep them in mind.

I actually read Light Thickens because I was looking for novels about the process of working backstage and putting on a show, and it did turn out to be very useful in that regard! The mystery was only a secondary consideration.
a_phoenixdragon
Sep. 27th, 2016 12:15 am (UTC)
*HUGS*
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )

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