6. Died in the Wool by Ngaio Marsh
Publication: Little, Brown and Company (under Berkley Medallion) (May 1978), Paperback, 245pp / ISBN 0425038602
Read: January 11-12, 2010
Summary from Amazon:
Member of Parliament Florence Rubrick has the wool pulled over her eyes-quite literally. She’s been found dead, her body pressed into a bale of wool. When Inspector Alleyn pays a visit to her New Zealand country home, he meets two fine, handsome men and two lovely young women, all of whom have reason to be grateful to dear Flossie for saving their lives. But as Inspector Alleyn learns, there are secrets aplenty hiding in the floorboards of that sheep station, and one in particular conceals a murderous motive that has the look and smell of treason.
I’ve never read a Ngaio Marsh book before, though I was familiar with her when I picked up five or six of her Inspector Alleyn books at a library book sale months ago. On my cover it there’s a quote that says “she writes better than Christie” and I’m actually inclined to agree.
Let me explain! Died in the Wool can be most closely compared to N or M?: it’s got spies, espionage, a murder, a small town in the middle of nowhere, Germans running amok, etc. In my review of N or M? I said that it was mostly slow and boring up until the near end, and some other things which in rereading that review now seem basically useless. However, I do remember that even the excitement at the end and the happiness of reading another story with Tommy and Tuppence (two of my favorite near-farcical characters ever to grace a mystery) couldn’t lift that book beyond a “oh, so that’s what happened. Bah.” In comparison, Died in the Wool made me feel– all throughout the book– alternatively happy, excited, scared, intrigued, interested, and gleeful (at the reveal).
I think the problem that most people have with Christie’s books is that she’s always having her character go off and do something behind the scenes and then show up at the spouting off on all these clues they’ve picked up when the reader wasn’t looking. Or rather, when the reader was having their eyes covered by Christie. Marsh’s books, however, don’t have that problem. I followed Inspector Alleyn through his whole investigation. I even got a bit of his inner thoughts about the mystery. And while I had some ideas about who the murderer/spy was, Marsh still managed to make me feel shock when he was revealed!
So while I like Christie’s stories, I can’t help but feel that Marsh’s a just a little bit better. They’re kinder to the reader, I think.
If I may be excused to compare Died in the Wool to another mystery once more, then I’d like to say Inspector Alleyn reminds me a whole bunch of DCI Barnaby from Midsomer Murders. He’s a quiet sort of detective (at least in Died in the Wool) who knows how people think and act, and who can put clues together marvelously. The rest of the characters ranged from practically faceless background characters to rather over-the-top annoyances (Ursula, for one, who acted like something out of a P.G. Wodehouse book). They weren’t the most fabulous people, but they suited their purposes.
My complaints are mostly the sort that pop up in mystery novels from the pre-1950s: not enough character depth, some colloquialisms that I don’t understand, and sometimes it all gets bogged down in the “was is that man? or maybe it was the girl! or maybe–!” sort of thing. Also, even though it takes place in New Zealand, it didn’t really feel like NZ. It felt like Britian-slightly-removed (which I suppose NZ was in the 1940s? But then, Marsh actually LIVED in NZ, so…I don’t know). But Died in the Wool was really nice in that I didn’t ever feel frustrated with the story (just some characters), the solution was workable and not stupendously weird, and I even managed to work some things out for myself! With help from Inspector Alleyn, of course.
It’s a short book, but everything ties up neatly and I didn’t ever feel like things were rushed or left out. If you’ve never tried a Ngaio Marsh book before, Died in the Wool might be a good one to start with.
Have you reviewed this book on your blog? Let me know and I’ll link to it from mine!
Bad cover photo taken by myself and my Macbook.
In the back of my copy there’s an ad for energy conservation, with the slogan “we only have one Texas.” This edition was publish in the 1970s. Kinda scary!