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The Case of the Late Pig was unsatisfactory.

It can be hard for me to judge these mysteries as mysteries -- some of the plots are good (this one was moderately interesting; Death of a Ghost and Flowers for the Judge were at least theoretically excellent; Sweet Danger was a trainwreck with brief flashes of charm) but it is actually a little hard to follow them at times because the characters aren't reliably distinct. Campion flickers in and out of focus like a malfunctioning hologram, which could be interesting but isn't yet. I had high hopes for the switch to first person, but it backfired as only first person can, and left him vaguer than before. The other characters are sometimes a little better, sometimes a little worse.

Lugg at least is always visible and the scene always brightens a little when he's in it. I don't know if I actually like Lugg as a character, or if I'm just clinging to him out of a lack of options. I think I like him. He's got grand ideas about Effective Butlering, a wealth of useful underworld contacts, and a quite reasonable lack of patience with Campion's shenanigans.

And now I feel guilty for spending so much time complaining about poor old Albert Campion when I could have just been watching the Fifth Doctor play him on TV, or better yet, watching Tristan Farnon look at sick animals and drive around in a little car in All Creatures Great and Small. The problem is, I keep expecting him to snap into place and become suddenly lovable, like Alleyn did when he met Troy for the first time and revealed hitherto unsuspected depths of awkwardness and adorability. In fact, the degree to which I'm bored and annoyed by Campion only increases my expectation that he will be visited by the Detective Characterization Fairy any day now.

Death and the Dancing Footman may be the first real slog from Ngaio Marsh since the earliest days. There's a snowed-in murder party, but the introduction of the characters and the rationale for bringing them together was so artificial and theatrical, even by Marsh standards, that the characters never gather any weight. They're introduced as players in a set-piece and so far they've remained that way, even though there's been a murder and several apparent murder attempts and the resulting unraveling of nerves.

This book shares a neighborhood and some minor characters with Overture to Death, which also suffered from an excessively bad-natured approach to a largely uninteresting cast. But while Overture was at least memorably vicious about its spinster caricatures, the narration of Death and the Dancing Footman can't seem to muster up the energy to be either unattractively repulsed by or entertainingly acid about anyone. Which is a bit of a letdown, considering the entire premise of this book is "rich troll invites several sets of mortal enemies over for the weekend to watch them squirm, is shocked -- shocked! to find that murder ensues." This feels like it's meant as a wry self-parody, and I want to enjoy it on those terms, but somehow it just fails to ignite. The expected jabs at bohemianism, popular psychology, class snobbery, theatre, the beauty industry, etc. are no thinner on the ground than usual, but somehow they nearly all fall a little flat. Sometimes the characters murmur vaguely about Freud, but you can tell their hearts aren't in it.

(Overture and Dancing Footman might be inverse failure twins in this respect: In Overture the Freudian shibboleths were so thoroughly entangled with the POV that they were alienating; here they're so colorlessly tongue-in-cheek that the characters who spout them feel like uncertain first drafts of themselves).

The most entertaining thing about Death and the Dancing Footman right now is a meta-phenomeonon: Inspector Alleyn keeps taking longer and longer to show up. The book is almost two-thirds over and they've just now taken a car out to fetch him. I expect him to be down to less than a single chapter per book by the time the series wraps up.


( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 21st, 2015 07:47 am (UTC)
Aw, unlike Overture, I like Death and the Dancing Footman, although now that I think about it, I think that it's one that's grown a lot on me during my various re-reads of the series, rather than me having especially gone for it the first time round.

Poor Campion! Though I must agree that reading him is obviously not as good as Peter Davison + cute animals, or Peter Davison playing Campion, either. :loL:

As I said, I think, I found a book of Margery Allingham short stories (a mix of ghost/detective pieces) and liked it better than I ever had any Campion novels. Well, except for me having my Amanda thing.
Sep. 21st, 2015 03:38 pm (UTC)
I don't have any hard feelings about Death & the DF. It's a decent iteration of the Ngaio Marsh Thing that I don't think is as good as her best, and it's right on the heels of Lampreys which really felt like Marsh reaching a peak and heading back home (not that I don't expect there to be other good books in the future; Died in the Wool is later and I love it). By comparison to the Lampreys, everyone in this book feels very artificial, and I haven't been able to adjust my expectations successfully enough to enjoy it on its own terms.

I also suspect things will pick up a lot now that Alleyn is on the scene -- but seriously, there's less than a third of the book left!

Poor Campion. :( Next time I have a dead stretch at work, I'll watch one of these adaptations. I did see "Look to the Lady" (a book I haven't read) a little while ago, but I couldn't make heads or tails of it -- but I was working on something at the time, so it might have been my fault. And we actually have a book of Allingham short stories at the store, I think, so maybe I'll read one today.

I did like Amanda better than anyone else. Maybe I should just skip ahead to whenever she turns back up? Do you remember when that is?
Sep. 21st, 2015 03:59 pm (UTC)
I really do think you're flogging a dead horse with Campion. I recognise similar feelings from my reading of them, but I was considerably less bothered about it - they were enjoyable enough in themselves, but I kept feeling as if all the actual events happened in between books or that I was missing vital installments or something.

I can't remember which book Amanda turns back up in, either. She's in Traitor's Purse, but there has to be a book in between Sweet Danger and that (there is, but it was disappointing and felt like I was still missing an installment), and I can't remember what it was anyway.

I liked Sweet Danger, because of Amanda, and Dancers in Mourning and Traitor's Purse and i have no idea which of the others were better or worse. Whereas, I started to watch the TV series and everything felt as if it immediately fell into place & that one day I can reread the series with that in mind and it might even work this time.

Maybe I'm being unfair, given how well-liked they are, but it's reassuring in a way to see you clearly having a not entirely dissimilar reaction.

As I said, I felt Death and the Dancing Footman showed well on re-reads, whereas on a first read the lack of Alleyn is pretty frustrating/amusing, among other things. (I am think that the only other books where he's quite so absent are ones where we follow Troy instead, but then again, I could be forgetting other incidences...) I am glad you liked Surfeit of Lampreys a lot, though! ♥
Sep. 21st, 2015 04:45 pm (UTC)
Probably true! I'm sure I should just give the poor guy a rest. Partly it's just that I love the rest of the Crime Queens such a lot that I feel guilty for not really getting Allingham, which is silly! Well, and the books are so small and easy to read that it doesn't really feel like I'm wasting my time.

Troy is around for a few pages in Death and the Dancing Footman and then she's gone again. I know, I know, she's got things to do and it's admirable and everything, but. I look forward to these all-Troy installments you speak of.
Sep. 21st, 2015 05:17 pm (UTC)
I look forward to these all-Troy installments you speak of.

:loL: They are real, I promise! You will have to get through the WWII separation first, but it does take Alleyn to New Zealand again, so swings and roundabouts. ;-)
Sep. 22nd, 2015 01:34 am (UTC)
I think Amanda turns up again as an airplane mechanic in The Fashion in Shrouds (which also features Campion's sister), but I think there's a large dollop of sexism in there that splashes all over the female characters who aren't Amanda.

I tend to agree that continuing on with Campion isn't likely to be worthwhile. There are so many other books to try that forcing oneself through more books that one's not likely to enjoy... Well, it's such a waste.
Sep. 22nd, 2015 03:41 am (UTC)
Aww, that's just going to make me mad that the series isn't about a plucky young airplane mechanic who strikes up an unlikely partnership with a retired burglar.

It is tempting, though, because Amanda is my favorite non-Lugg character so far, and for all I complain about Campion, I am curious to see this family that he is so anxious to hide.

Allingham does seem to go in for the occasional splash of sexism, doesn't she? Even Amanda gets that awkward intro dwelling on her youthful "peak of physical perfection." There have been a couple of other odd unpleasant moments that I can't remember now.

It doesn't really feel like I'm forcing myself so much as I'm being pulled along by a small but very durable thread of curiosity and hope. But you're probably right.
Sep. 21st, 2015 05:34 pm (UTC)
Inspector Alleyn keeps taking longer and longer to show up. The book is almost two-thirds over and they've just now taken a car out to fetch him. I expect him to be down to less than a single chapter per book by the time the series wraps up.

I've only read one Inspector Alleyn book, but it was right at the end of the series, and... that is pretty much exactly what happened. Okay, he was in more than one chapter, but it was a tiny, tiny part compared to the other characters.
Sep. 21st, 2015 06:26 pm (UTC)
Typical! :)

Marsh is weirdly considerate of her characters, I think. I don't know if Alleyn can ever really count on a genuine retirement, or a fully corpse-free vacation, but his chances seem better with Marsh than with anyone else.
Sep. 21st, 2015 11:53 pm (UTC)
Aw, I rather liked Death and the Dancing Footman. But it occurs to me as I think about it that I actually have very little memory of the book, aside from the existence of a footman who does in fact dance at a crucial moment.

Also, now I want to watch All Creatures Great and Small. It's such good comfort watching, and I have a cold. Perhaps I should make a cup of tea and indulge.
Sep. 22nd, 2015 03:30 am (UTC)
You should! It's perfect under-the-weather comfort viewing.

There's a good chance I'll come to like Death and the Dancing Footman better in retrospect, or at least remember it fondly. And things do pick up once Alleyn arrives.
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )


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