July 27, 2003

Clutch of Constables and Died in the Wool, by Ngaio Marsh

I dug these two out of the "take to the used bookstore" box after discovering that, yes indeedy, I do enjoy her mysteries. That was before I trotted myself down to the Large Chain Bookstore, unfortunately placed just down the road from where I work, to buy 6 more. I'm sure they are all at the library but, gosh, we are going on vacation in a couple weeks and if I got them now and didnít read them right away there are those nasty, nasty fines and we donít want that, now do we? Much cheaper just to buy the books right up front.

Died in the Wool takes place first of these two. Detective Alleyn is in New Zealand during the war searching for spies or "fifth columnists" as they are called in the book. He is called in by the nephew of a deceased woman MP there to investigate her death. Seems she was smothered and then packed into a bale of raw wool at her wool ranch in the backwaters. They didnít find her til weeks later when someone noticed a wonky smell in the wool warehouse and makes the mistake of cutting open the bale to look for the dead rat they think is in it. It was the bale hook going in and coming out with goo on it that did me in. Eeuuw!

Now the house is in the possession of her nephew, her husband has since died of heart disease and the people who live there all agree to tell their side of the story. Oh, and the nephew and another nephew, both injured in the war, are working on a top secret magnetic fuse for missiles to use against the Germans. The secretary has stayed on as a gardener. Her ward is still there. The butler, who seems to be the top candidate since he was recommended before the war by a Japanese gentlemen, is still there. And it again wool shearing time so all the itinerant workmen are back on the ranch. Detective Alleyn must listen to all their stories, find the motive and figure it all out. And one of them is likely a spy.

A Clutch of Constables takes place while Alleyn is off in the States investigating an international art forgery ring. His wife, Troy, whimsically decides to take a riverboat cruise of a twisty turny river in England after a big show of her paintings. She hopes to do it anonymously. The passenger list is the usual assortment of odd eccentrics including a lepidopterist, a preacher from Australia, an American brother and sister with loads of camera equipment and an annoying nosey woman who had discovered journaling and writes down everything. Troy discovers that the passenger whose place she has filled was found murdered in his flat in London, there is some weird stuff happening on board and then, the annoying journal writer disappears. Fortunately, Detective Alleyn returns just in time to figure out the whole mess and save his wife.

Both of these were light and entertaining. What I like about Marsh's mysteries is that she gives all the clues plus a few extras to trip you up. They are wonderfully complicated without being difficult to read. I didnít figure out whodunnit in either of them until the end. And Detective Alleyn is growing on meósort of the tall silent type.

Posted by Deb English at July 27, 2003 02:31 PM