April 04, 2005

Singing in the Shrouds, by Ngaio Marsh

A serial killer has been fascinating and terrifying London. Dubbed the "Flower Killer" by the press, he strangles women, drops flowers on their bodies, and walks away singing. The final victim is found on the London docks just as the freighter Cape Farewell pulls away; the freighter is carrying eight passengers. The victim had a torn piece of embarkation notice for the Cape Farewell in her hand. The inference is clear; the Flower Killer might be on board the ship. There isn't enough evidence to call the Cape Farewell back to port, but plenty enough to be worried, and so Inspector Alleyn boards the freighter at Southhampton as "Mr. Broderick", an official of the shipping line.

What follows is an interesting variant of the snowbound country house mystery. The passengers are trapped on board the ship with a demented killer, and only Alleyn and the ship's captain are aware of it. Without alarming the passengers, Alleyn must determine who the killer is, and prevent him from killing again.

As a mystery it's enjoyable enough, but Alleyn's reflections on serial killing and serial killers are dated, and the psychological explanation for why the killer kills is ridiculously facile. But hey, it was 1958.

Posted by Will Duquette at April 4, 2005 07:31 PM