At Sir Hubert Handesley’s country house party, five guests have gathered for the uproarious parlor game of “Murder.” Yet no one is laughing when the lights come up on an actual corpse, the good-looking and mysterious Charles Rankin. Scotland Yard’s Inspector Roderick Alleyn arrives to find a complete collection of alibis, a missing butler, and an intricate puzzle of betray
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Marsh introduced her famous detective in this mystery, and you can tell that she wasn’t entirely sure what personality to go with. At times he reads like Wimsey playing a silly ass, at other times he is crude or clever in the manner of a Bright Young Thing; he takes the official police hard-line one moment only to suddenly behave in unprofessional and even inappropriate ways. I suspect she was trying to write realistically complex character, but the overall effect is one of schizophrenia and imp
Luckily, we spend most of the story from the point of view of Nigel Bathgate, a somewhat two-dimensional Nice Young Man of the sort that one would let date one’s sister (but probably find too boring to have a relationship with). There’s no pomo unreliability here; it is clear that he is innocent, and his requisite wholesome love interest is dismissed from suspicion, apparently out of convenience to the romance subplot. Otherwise, the victim and suspects are sufficiently unpleasant that there is no sense of urgency about the solution.
Most interesting to me, partly because it is so dated, is the side mystery with the Bolshevik conspirators. Did you know that in addition to being dirty communists they practiced weird, vaguely Satanic rituals that sometimes culminate in self-immolation? No? Neither did Marsh. The only thing the police really seem to be after them for is publishing seditious literature, which I guess every contemporary reader was assumed to consider a serious and despicable crime. Bolshies! Don’t let anyone give you one of their sacred ritual daggers or they will track you down* and murder you!
*It won’t be difficult; you’ll happen to be at the weekend house-party of a mutual friend. I don’t know why anyone still goes to house-parties in England, it is just asking for trouble.