Marsh, Ngaio. Scales of Justice.

Boston: Little, Brown, 1955.

Along with Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers, Ngaio Marsh was one of the Big Three British mystery novelists of what is now called the Golden Age. I’ve always enjoyed Sayers’s books (still very popular), though I never cared at all for Christie (still enormously popular), but it puzzles me why Marsh’s stores featuring DCI Roderick Alleyn of Scotland Yard have sort of fallen by the wayside.

“Handsome Alleyn,” as the newspapers call him, is a gent, which is why Lady Lacklander, an old friend of his mother’s, insists on his personal presence when there’s a murder among the ancient landed families in the Vale of Swevenings. The deceased is Col. Cartarette, the perhaps annoyingly high-minded and honorable literary executor of the almost as recently deceased Sir Harold Lacklander, whose not-yet-published official memoirs from his years as a diplomat promise explosive revelations that will upset certain of his neighbors. George Lacklander, the new baronet, is a dunce (his mother sighs a lot), and his son, the young Dr. Lacklander, is deeply involved with the Colonel’s daughter, Rose Cartarette. And next door is the eccentric cat-collector, Mr. Octavius Danberry-Phinn, who has issues with everyone, and next door to him is the shy and reclusive Commander Syce, an archery enthusiast who sometimes becomes careless with his arrows. And that’s not even to mention Rose’s venal stepmother, Kitty, who doesn’t fit into Swevenings society at all, and Nurse Kettle, who sees everything. And then there’s the trout.

Chief Inspector Alleyn and his faithful sidekick and sounding board, Inspector Fox, have their work cut out trying to sort all these relationships, discover motives, establish a timeline, uncover evidence, and get it all wrapped up before the weekend. Marsh’s style is rather more modern than Christie’s but still is at least PG-rated. Her plots are nicely complex and there’s a leavening of dry humor that keeps things moving along.

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Published in: on 11 March 2013 at 8:59 am  Leave a Comment  
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