Monday, May 12, 2014

Ngaio Marsh : Death in a White Tie, 1938


Ngaio Marsh : Death in a White Tie, 1938

In my opinion one of the best Ngaio Marsh novels I've ever read!
It 'easy to say , so to speak : a novel sumptuous , not a pure mystery , with a plot and an atmosphere that completely change and continually ; a great novel , full-bodied, almost three hundred pages, when the mysteries classics that reach are the minority ; a novel that knows how to combine the detective story to the stories of the various characters , at least to some, with great psychological insight, and together with extreme care; a novel, in which even the men , they cry like women.
The story is set in high society, what commonly happens in the mysteries classics pre-war: a blackmailer has seized incriminating secrets, and in exchange for their non-disclosure, blackmails noblewomen . The first is the fatuous young wife of General Halcutt - Hackett, who looks very naively by the police asking for help, " for his imaginary friend" ; the second is Lady Evelyn Carrados, wife of Sir Herbert Carrados .
To direct the investigation is Roderick Alleyn , the son of Lady Alleyn , and then he, too, of noble lineage . The blackmailer wants some blackmailed to leave her evening bag with 500 pounds in the places indicated by him: to go unnoticed, so , too,
evidently, must  also  blackmailer  belongs  to the high society.
Among the peculiarities of the novel , there’s as well as the characters which I briefly mentioned, the variety and large number of characters who are affected : there is the Captain Maurice Withers , a character from the past doubt ; General and Mrs. Halcutt - Hackett, Sir and Lady Evelyn Herbert Carrados Carrados ; Violet Harris their secretary ; Bridget , daughter of the first bed of Lady Carrados ; there is the same Roderyck Alleyn, son of Lady Alleyn, famous Inspector of Scotland Yard, noble and brother of a baronet ; there’s the ambiguous Dimitri, the head of a company that today we would say of "catering " , which deals about the organization, supplies and personnel for large receptions ; there are Lord Robert " Bunchy " Gospell , and the noblewoman friend of Roderyck, Lucy Lorrimer ; there is the nephew  of Lord Gospell, Donald, fallen in love with Bridget ; there the painter Agatha Troy ; and also the doctor of Carrados , Sir Daniel Davidson .
So we understand how to find the blackmailer may be a thing of no small importance : Roderyck , then asks the help of his friend Lord Gospell : he will be an undercover agent , during a reception from Carrados , and be careful to identify the blackmailer . But something goes wrong and at the ed of  the receptio , Gospell is killed, smothered in a taxi without the driver noticing and without the victim shouts a lot : how did blackmailer ? And who is he ?
Roderyck Alleyn finds himself suddenly swept from a simple ( but then not so ? ) investigation about  a blackmailer , to investigation about a murderer.
Another special feature of this novel is that, much more easily, as opposed to this, there are plots in which the blackmailer is to be killed; here there is a diversity of plant: since we know that Lord Gospell is not the blackmailer nor the blackmailed , but only a voluntary collaborator of the police, it appears that the murderer is probably also the blackmailer or at least a his accomplice.
Why the blackmailer killed Gospell? Because he had found out who he was?
The fact is that Roderyck is more determined than ever: the murderer has not only killed an innocent man, but for most  his life-long friend. Let read and visualize a scene in which a police inspector cries for a dead friend, is not usual thing in a Mystery , where the detective is usually detached from the characters of the drama, and is more than "Inter Partes", "Super Partes". In this novel, we note a characterization that puts Ngaio Marsh among the writers  by the first magnitude: more than a mystery writer borrowed the literature tout court, to the contrary!
The blackmailer , who takes the money is found, soon enough : it is more difficult to determine whether he is the murderer, or if he has an accomplice or if he is the accomplice of the murderer.
I know something else: Ngaio Marsh , to express the brutality of the murder, and his baseness , to have acted treacherously by the murderer ( without the victim was aware of what was happening), and siphoning off his coat and hat, i.e. his characterizing clothing) , and then having imitated the voice of the dead, and having sent the driver at a certain address , proceed to the description of the state in which the Lord Gospell’sl body has been found by Roderyck (in fact the taxi driver, having noticed the murder at a later time , runs to the police station asking to speak to a manager column of high-grade , which in this case is just the Chief Inspector of Scotland Yard Roderick Alleyn ) : tells the pudgy hands were still, while the feet were turned around backwards like those of a child; his head was bent over his shoulder, languidly , like that of a sick child.. In other words, the Marsh to condemn the savagery of the murder, compares the dead Lord Gospell to a child. Who never should kill a child , an innocent person , and what's more sick , if not a vicious murderer ? So to characterize psychologically the murderer uses the description of his victim : a process quite interesting.
Roderyck Alleyn must therefore employ to all his skill, cunning and sagacity , to force the various characters to reveal those unconfessed little secrets that only serve to distract the police by capturing the real murderer .

It will not be easy. But eventually he will succeed , thanks to an old French box and to a wedged cigarette that has “a medal by Cellini”,  that allow to frame the murderer in the picture, and destroying his alibi.
And in this tourbillon , they will stop a gambler , a blackmailer and a murderer , the first for anything accomplice of the other two ; it will be proved a bigamy , an affair, an organization dedicated to blackmail will be destroyed ; and finally the sensitive but determined Roderyck Alleyn will find love in a happy ending .
To tell the truth, I especially like the novels f from Ngaio Marsh, where there is next to Roderich, Agatha. Ngaio Marsh manages to create a happy amalgam to enchant with its first-rate narrative vein, everyone without distinction, men and women.

Pietro De Palma

1 comment:

  1. I remember reading this years ago and really enjoying it. However some crime novels are not so good if you remember whodunit (while others are fine) and I think this might be one of them.