Colour Scheme, by Ngaio Marsh

>> Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Next in my pile of Ngaio Marsh books (ordered by date published, because I'm anal that way), was Colour Scheme. Actually, I remember there being another one before it, but I couldn't find it and I needed to start a mystery NOW, so I'll just go back to that one later.

England is at war, and this means "spy fever" for a quarrelsome collection of patriots at a shabby New Zealand resort. Inspector Roderick Alleyn joins them incognito when their amateurish sleuthing results in a macabre murder that shocks even Scotland Yard!
It had some fascinating stuff and I liked many aspects of it, but this was my least favourite of the Marsh books I've read so far -even if it's supposed to be the one Marsh herself considered her best. A B-.

I think the reason might be that Marsh is especially merciless with her characters here. That was something I noticed about her characterization from the very first of her books that I read. In Overture to Death, I was a bit taken aback by the utter viciousness with which some of the characters were portrayed.

It's not so bad here, and each and every one of the characters (except maybe Dikon Bell) is unpleasant or stupid in a different way. This made it interesting to read, but after a while it got to be overwhelming, and not so much fun to read.

Another slightly disappointing aspect was the spy plot. I'm never too fond of those, but luckily things played out as a cozy mystery here, which was good. Thing is, strangely enough, even though as a spy story Colour Scheme deals directly with the war, those events felt much more distant than they did in Death and the Dancing Footman, for instance.

The final explanation didn't really make all that much sense when it came to the culprit's motivation. The deductions which led to Mr. Septimus Falls discovering whodunnit were great, very ingenious, and they explained several details I hadn't even realized might be important, but the murderer's motivations lacked some development.

And speaking of Septimus Falls, well, someone should have warned the person who wrote the blurb for the back cover that he's supposed to be a mystery man. That's all I need to say, I suppose!

Edited to say: Hah! I was so busy writing my problems with the book that when I saw the time and realized I was running late, I forgot I hadn't mentioned what I'd really, really liked about the book. So, quickly: first, the setting. The spa and its grounds, with all those mud baths, was fascinatingly eerie. I especially liked the way it was described as resembling a moon landscape, I had the perfect image of it in my mind after that.

And also, the romance. It seems there always is one of those in Marsh's books, and I liked this one because neither Dikon nor Barbara are perfectly beautiful dolls. Barbara, especially, doesn't seem like a likely candidate at first glace, with all those mannerisms and affectations, and I loved how Dikon slowly starts seeing beneath them.


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