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Murder After Midnight Monday

What I've Finished Reading

Tied Up in Tinsel was all right! You can sort of tell who the killer is going to be all along, just by the relative strength of the misdirection, but finding out how it was managed is still enjoyable.

I'm not sure at what point Marsh's setups got to be reliably better than her interrogations, but this is one of those. Troy's detached interest in the eccentric millionaire with a face "like a good-looking camel" and her growing anxiety as tensions in the house come to a boil are a little more engaging than the subsequent interrogation period, with everyone sulking in drawing rooms and Alleyn being imperiously judgmental at various survivor-suspects. Anticipation about how and when The Detective Part will eventually break into and devour the novel we've been reading has become the most common source of suspense in the Alleyn series.

I was a little worried about Black as He's Painted -- it's the one where Alleyn's old school friend becomes president of a newly independent African republic -- and found myself reading it more closely than usual, on the alert for racism. In some ways it was a little better than I expected, and in some ways worse -- I didn't expect or appreciate some of Alleyn's out-of-nowhere musings on "the Negro," for example. On the plus side, there's no obvious nostalgia for the colonial period, even if Marsh does take care to make the worst of the white villains secretly Portuguese instead of British. None of the other African characters have much to do, but President Bartholomew "The Boomer" Opala is as about as complex as any Marsh major-minor character, more than some. Marsh makes all the overt racists grotesque and the "enlightened" whites a little embarrassing, and might suggest that the difference in Alleyn and Opala's political beliefs is some kind of fundamental "racial" difference, but not with too much force. It was ok.

As an Inspector Alleyn book, it's worth reading for its wealth of rare Alleyn personality catalysts. Alleyn gets a childhood, after all this time! -- it's just a couple of memories of conversations with The Boomer over herring toast at Davidson's, but they're friendly and evocative -- and Alleyn's occasionally-mentioned but seldom seen brother shows up! He is a diplomat who is embarrassed that his brother is a "cop;" Alleyn seems to dislike him because he is a stock character left over from the earliest days of the series when Marsh didn't really know what she was doing. They have some awkward interactions at a state function. Alleyn also gets to talk to a cat on more than one occasion! Alleyn likes cats and cats like Alleyn. Troy is also around, though she feels slightly off-model here for some reason. I'd expect her to be a little more ambivalent about doing the portrait for a current head of state, posed on a throne no less, however much she likes his face.

This book also contains WHAT MIGHT BE a nod to Doctor Who:

"I caught myself wondering -- well, almost wondering -- if the whole affair could have been some sort of hallucination. Rather like that dodging-about-in-time nonsense they do in science fiction plays: as if it had happened off the normal temporal plane."

lost_spook, or anyone else who might know: might a British retiree have used "play" for "teleplay" for "television show" in 1974? This seems plausible to me, based on no particular evidence.

What I'm Reading Now and Next

I thought I would take a break from murder for a little while, but then I started reading A Guilty Thing Surprised by Ruth Rendell, and it's pretty ok, so the murder break is on hold until I finish it. It's about a wealthy woman who lives a charmed life, OR DOES SHE? Well, not anymore. After so many slow-developing Marsh books, it's a little startling to see a corpse so early in the game. Inspector Wexford is the detective, a portly small-town professional who likes a nice quotation now and then but doesn't let it get in the way of procedure (mostly). His partner Inspector Burden has a great name and is clearly representing my interests in this book: when Wexford nearly sprains his eyes rolling them at a pompous survivor-suspect's "dull and conventional" wife, Burden says that he for one is pleased to meet a nice ordinary person who is doing her best. DAMN STRAIGHT, BURDEN nothing wrong with being ordinary. YOU TELL HIM. I hope she doesn't turn out to be the killer; that would be so disappointing for Inspector Burden and for all of us. :(

Next: maybe nothing for a while? We'll see. But guess what's available for pre-order RIGHT NOW? By the pricking of my thumbs, something comfortable this way comes!


( 17 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 20th, 2016 08:20 am (UTC)
I hope she doesn't turn out to be the killer; that would be so disappointing for Inspector Burden and for all of us.

I already strongly suspect her. :-/

lost_spook, or anyone else who might know: might a British retiree have used "play" for "teleplay" for "television show" in 1974? This seems plausible to me, based on no particular evidence.

My moment has come! Okay, first off, sadly I doubt it's a ref to Doctor Who, but let us pause for some brief TV history if my feeble post-op wits don't let me down. US TV has always tended to be viewed as the 'small screen' (i.e. the little cinema) with a lot of episodic film serials and was (& is) also very commercial. British TV, aside from also getting halted by WWII, which didn't stop the US networks, was originally solely the BBC, which was founded on Reithian values* of educate, inform and entertain and basically drama = we can now broadcast the latest theatre plays in everyone's living rooms & make everybody cultural! (And import US serials for those who would rather be just entertained, thanks.) And for nearly a whole decade that was what they did: take the latest West End productions and broadcast them from TV studios with the original cast.** Sadly, as you know, first off they broadcast them live and then later they burninated them, or else we would have the most amazing theatrical history resource. (But some of them have survived!)

Things progressed (although TV versions of the latest plays continued into the 70s) but the schedule was peppered with one-off plays and anthologies, all specifically aimed at finding and encouraging playwrights: Armchair Theatre, ITV Play of the Week, Play of the Month, The Wednesday Play, The Saturday Play etc. etc., plus themed anthology plays. So while I don't know if teleplay was widely used like that, Marsh would be unlikely to refer to DW as a 'play'. It was a drama series, and thus distinct from a film serial (either imported from the US or co-made with US money, which is what all the ITC US-style (but British-made) film serials were - like The Champions, The Prisoner, Danger Man, UFO etc. etc. and also, although it's not from the same stable, The Avengers Emma Peel-onwards) and also distinct from the one-off play.

The most likely thing for Marsh to be referring to was probably Out of the Unknown & its predecessor - the BBC's 1960s anthologies of SF plays, which definitely included weird time storylines. (I started to watch OotU this year before my set turned out to be faulty and I had to send it back; I'm not still bitter, but I'd definitely already got to some weird timey-wimeyness as modern Who would have it).

Of course, Ngaio Marsh was heavily involved in the theatre & may well have seen strange and actual small-theatre SF plays - it's entirely likely! But I'd say it's very unlikely she'd use 'play' for a TV series or serial rather than a one-off TV play.

That's probably a longer answer than you wanted. Don't ask me about old telly. Sorry. (I learned all this from Doctor Who Magazine, reading about Doctor Who & now watching all this old telly. Plus, Media Studies A Level. It all happened by accident. Also, lots of it is dodgy hearsay.)

(Also, hi! I am still alive! I shall make a post later today, all being well, if this doesn't collapse me. But if it did, fear not, it was worth it & I'll make my post tomorrow.)

*interesting aside: after all my life hearing about Reith as this rather repressive figure - apparently he was really keen on the BBC employing women, and I should probably find out more and stop imagining a stern Victorian sitting in Broadcasting House or wherever.

**THe US, despite its headstart, took till 1949 to widely broadcast a full Shakespeare play - my current fave James Maxwell was in it as a student at Amherst college, as Brutus - whereas the BBC, despite a near-decade lag were certainly already doing that by 1950, and probably before. Educate, entertain and inform. *nods*

Edited at 2016-06-20 08:25 am (UTC)
Jun. 20th, 2016 11:22 am (UTC)
I knew you would have an informed opinion :D! Thanks for calling my attention to Out of the Unknown, which typically enough, I'd never heard of -- and to the context of plays on television. Welcome back! I hope I didn't collapse you too badly by tempting you down Old Telly Expertise Lane.

I already strongly suspect her. :-/


Probably a good call, but I am choosing to believe for now. She's just nervous because who wouldn't be, what with the police barging in and asking a lot of rude questions, and a killer on the loose! :( At least if she turns out to be the killer, Wexford's dismissiveness will look even sillier in retrospect.

Hope your recovery is speedy and complete!
Jun. 23rd, 2016 09:08 am (UTC)
Hah, you mean you don't pay close attention to all my posts about old telly-watching? *shakes head* :lol: (You didn't collapse me. It was nice. Sorry about the over-long comment though. I was excited at being a person who could comment again. Although, to be honest, I would probably always be that long.)

Thank you!
Jun. 24th, 2016 12:27 am (UTC)
Your long comments are always welcome! <3
Jun. 20th, 2016 01:06 pm (UTC)

Uh. Anyway. I've always been rather wistful that Marsh never did write a straight-up novel without a murder, because her set-ups are so good that I think she could have written a really good one. I remember a couple of times I actually got a bit cranky when the murder happened, because there had been all this really interesting plot and character development happening and now it was going to get derailed by this murder.

Which I guess is a bit like how murder usually effects real life, so perhaps this is quite canny of Marsh after all, but still.

I haven't read Black as He's Painted, but my sense from Marsh's other books is that her heart is tending toward the right place with racial issues - she wants to do right by her Maori characters, for instance - but her execution is hampered by living in the mid-twentieth century and just can't quite let go of the idea that there are intrinsic racial differences.

And I want to read Black as He's Painted, just for the glimpses of bb!Alleyn.
Jun. 20th, 2016 02:12 pm (UTC)
Charles Lenox is sitting at home RIGHT NOW, pot of tea at one elbow, glass of port at the other, stack of buttered crumpets on a little table before him, reading Barchester Towers in an enormous armchair and musing comfortably on how nice it is that no one's been murdered lately. Enjoy it while you can, Lenox!

Yeah, I think if she'd felt like it, Marsh could have done a pretty satisfying novel about Roberta and the Lampreys (Surfeit was actually a little spoiled by its ending, imo) or Martyn Tarne or even Troy and her proteges. Eventually the interrogation parts begin to feel more like a shutting-down of narrative possibilities than the opening of hidden wounds and passages. But it's also a really reliable formula - Marsh was good at it and her writing style is adapted to it and she seems to enjoy writing them, so I can't exactly fault her for sticking with it. I'd definitely jump at the chance to read a non-detective novel by Marsh if it existed (which is more than I can say for Charles Finch, alas).

Your sense and mine are pretty much alike. Black as He's Painted is worth reading for bb!Alleyn and for Alleyn the friend of cats, though Intermittently Racist Alleyn can be a little jarring.
Jun. 20th, 2016 03:08 pm (UTC)
Neither of my libraries have The Inheritance. D: Why must you torment me this way, libraries???

Charles Finch actually has a non-detective novel, which I read and much regretted reading. Clearly he should stick to mysteries.

ETA: But one of my libraries does have Black as He's Painted. Clearly that will be my next stop on the mystery train!

Edited at 2016-06-20 03:11 pm (UTC)
Jun. 20th, 2016 11:08 pm (UTC)
The Inheritance doesn't come out until November! That's probably why. I'm just jumping the gun a little.

I did come across That Time Charles Finch Went on Study Abroad: A Novel on Amazon, and it didn't strike me as the sort of thing I should read. Not as satisfying as the Comfortverse, I take it?
Jun. 20th, 2016 11:36 pm (UTC)
Definitely not as satisfying as the Comfortverse. Oddly enough, given that Finch is pretty young himself, I think he does a better job writing comfortably settled middle-aged people than young people.

Also, writing a modern novel doesn't give him as many opportunities for endearingly blatant infodumps - or at least he doesn't take advantage of them; I'm sure he could have thrown in lots of Oxford trivia if he wanted.
Jun. 20th, 2016 11:59 pm (UTC)
But Oxford is just a giant infodump magnet disguised as a city, as evidenced by The September Society and some of the most infodumpy Finch-Lenox infodumps in the entire series! I love the bit where Lenox goes to a pub and starts spontaneously thinking about the history of pubs and the medieval university, with little parenthetical asides noting the exact date when the pub was founded.

I am sorry to hear that Finch's Serious Fiction stand-in (Charles Fletcher-Fox?) isn't being constantly swept into the currents of all the cool trivia he knows about buildings, like a Marcel Proust of cool building trivia. We could have had it all! Or anyway, we could have had infodumps.

Edited at 2016-06-21 12:01 am (UTC)
Jun. 20th, 2016 02:32 pm (UTC)
Could the sci-fi ref be to radio plays? Because some of the dramas done in conjunction with the Radiophonic Workshop could be creepily trippy.

I've read Ruth Rendall, but so long ago I can't remember anything about them:S
Jun. 20th, 2016 02:46 pm (UTC)
It's possible! All we know from the remark is that there are some sci-fi plays where dodging-about-in-time nonsense is frequent enough or nonsensical enough to stick in the mind.

RR is all right so far! Not quite an instant favorite, but not at all slow going, either. Inspector Wexford is kind of mildly irritating in a mildly sympathetic way. I like Inspector Mike Burden, the priggish young dad whom Wexford keeps yelling at for being too conservative and out of touch.
Jun. 20th, 2016 03:10 pm (UTC)
I guess I must have found RR alright too! I think there's a music festival one.
Jun. 20th, 2016 06:17 pm (UTC)
So I'm guessing you're a big fan of Charles Lenox! I have a copy of the first book in the series that I picked up quite a while ago and haven't yet got around to reading; I see I should bump it up to the top of the pile.
Jun. 20th, 2016 11:38 pm (UTC)
I'm a fan, yes! The adventures of Charles Lenox, Most Comfortable Man in London, are extremely cozy, much more so than my problematic Golden Age faves. The Most Comfortable Man in London likes to settle in by the fire with a book and a nice glass of brandy and some toast, but sometimes there are murders and he has to go out in the rain. That's the story, pretty much. There are a lot of fairly simple, slow-moving plot arcs involving his friends and family, all of whom are basically good people who support each other and enjoy a good thoroughly-described meal. Every now and then, the author wanders by to share some of the research he's been doing in the form of disarmingly undisguised infodumps.

You might like them and you might not! It should be pretty easy to tell from the first one whether you're going to be charmed or annoyed. Charles Finch's prose does get a little better and his infodumps better-integrated over time, but the essential building blocks are there from the start. I'd be interested to know what you think!

Edited at 2016-06-20 11:41 pm (UTC)
Jun. 23rd, 2016 09:53 pm (UTC)
That does sound really appealing to me! Sigh, so many books, so little time...
Jun. 24th, 2016 12:10 am (UTC)
So much vicarious fireside brandy-sipping awaits you! So much.
( 17 comments — Leave a comment )


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