October 05, 2003

Overture to Death, by Ngaio Marsh

This is Marsh's first use of a device that later becomes one of her trademarks--the novel in which she spends many chapters introducing her characters before the murder actually takes place. Alleyn is not called in until page 94, by which time Marsh has given us an excellent portrait of the village of Chipping and its denizens, including two poisonous old spinsters, a pair of young lovers, an aging squire, a handsome but timid vicar, a doctor with an invalid wife, and a Scarlet Woman. These folks gather together to put on an amateur play; it will be a local charity event, with the proceeds going toward a new piano for the parish hall. There are considerable undercurrents of tension among the group. The spinsters disapprove of the Scarlet Woman, though the squire and the doctor rather like her; the squire is against his son marrying his beloved, the vicar's daughter; both spinsters are in love with the vicar, who does his best to discourage them without losing charity. It's an interesting soup, and the two spinsters are especially well drawn. This is one of Marsh's better outings to date.

Posted by Will Duquette at October 5, 2003 11:26 AM

Phil said:

Do many mystery authors define their characters well before charting in the victim? That's what P.D. James has done this in those novels of her's I've read.

Deb said:

Not that often. Usually they want to get to the murder right away and then bring the character into it. Have you read Peter Lovesey's Peter Diamond series. They are excellent and I think Will will concur on that. I like Ruth Rendell also but only in small doses.

Will Duquette said:

I like Peter Lovesey a lot, but I've come to like Reginald Hill better. I've not tried Ruth Rendell.