July 11, 2004

Spinsters in Jeopardy, by Ngaio Marsh

This is the next of Marsh's Inspector Alleyn mysteries, and I'm afraid it's aged very badly.

Alleyn, his wife, and their little boy Ricky (his first appearance, as it happens) take a vacation to the south of France. Alleyn's mixing business with pleasure; while Troy and Ricky are having fun, he's going to be helping the Sureté bust up a drug ring. Tied in with the drug ring, possibly, are the denizens of the Chateau of the Silver Goat, the owner of which is the leader of what we'd now call a New Age cult. It's a scam, of course, at least mostly, but the cult leader uses the drugs to keep control over his small flock.

And this is where it gets dated. The two drugs mentioned in the book are heroin and marijuana, tellingly spelled "marihuana". Heroin is no joke, even now, but for the rest this spills over into Reefer Madness territory. The pinnacle comes during an occult ritual which Alleyn has infiltrated; there are six other participants. Each attendee is given a "reefer" to smoke; through a little sleight of hand, Alleyn substitutes one of his own cigarettes.

Now, really. I've never smoked either tobacco or marijuana myself (I was always a goody-two-shoes) but I know what they both smell like, and if Alleyn had lit up a normal cigarette in this situation, you can't tell me that the other six wouldn't have noticed the difference.

The book does have some fun moments, including one delightful scene where Alleyn comes over all Cary Grant and loses his temper with a slimy French executive, but the first half of the book is a bit of a slog.

Posted by Will Duquette at July 11, 2004 08:31 PM

perletwo said:

This one is dreadful, I grant you. Bordering on Christie at her worst. But I was amused by the descriptions of Alleyn's attempts to ingratiate himself with the cult leader, and Ricky being "fizzily and motion'ly exhausted" - the sort of details that make me want to make movies of the Marsh oeuvre.

Deb said:

My guess is that Ngaio Marsh hadn't smelled weed and didnt know the distinct difference. Some folks don't you know.

Will Duquette said:

My point exactly, and when she wrote it I suspect few of her readers would have known the difference either. But I do, and I'm a goody two shoes. That's what I mean when I say it hasn't aged well.