Overture to Death, by Ngaio Marsh

>> Friday, April 30, 2004

Considering how much I enjoy Dorothy Sayers and Agatha Christie, I'm thinking it might be a good idea to try some of their contemporaries who are supposed to write similar books. There are certain authors who keep being compared to them, like Ngaio Marsh and Margery Allingham, for instance.

So, last weekend I decided to try my first Ngaio Marsh, Overture to Death.

It was planned as an act of charity: a new piano for the parish hall, an amusing play to finance the gift. But its execution was doomed when Miss Campanula sat down to play. A chord was struck, a shot rang out and Miss Campanula was dead. A case of sinister infatuation for the brilliant Chief Detective-Inspector Alleyn.
I'm very impressed. Quite nice, I think I'll start looking for Marsh's backlist. My grade would be a B+.

The mystery itself was nicely done. I liked the very, very ingenious murder method. With something so elaborate, one might think that it's a bit too much to be plausible, but Marsh solves that problem (I'm trying very hard not to spoil this!) and it ends up being something that I actually could see happening.

However, what made this book so much more than simply an interesting murder mystery were the vivid characterizations and portrayal of life at the village.

Marsh was able to convey the feeling of village life very well, show how the most trivial, idiotic things can take on world-shattering proportions there. Normally, the big deal made out of whether they'd put on the play the poisonous spinsters had proposed or the other, more modern one, would simply irritate me, but Marsh makes it seem understandable that great hatreds can develop from such mundane stuff and even makes the reader really care about this.

The characterization was also excellent, even if I was a bit taken aback by the viciousness of the way the two spinsters were portayed. I don't think I've read such unpleasant characters in a long time, and this includes quite a few eeeevil villains! The rest of the characters were also very well done. Marsh has a way of describing a character with few words and yet making the reader feel she knows their essence, and she isn't afraid of gently poking fun at their little foibles, even with her most sympathetic characters.

This, my first encounter with Marsh's detective, Roderick Alleyn, was a positive one. He wasn't really too interesting here, but I could see some glimpses of something more, especially in what I could see of his relationship with the woman who in this book is his fiancée. I suspect I'll enjoy this guy more as I continue reading Marsh.


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