Ngaio Marsh’s background in the theater (for which she was named a Dame of the British Empire) is evident in the “casting” of the characters that make up this ensemble. Sir Henry is a elderly, retired Shakespearian actor and head of a family full of people who are absolutely revel in their eccentricities. Indeed, the story begins when Sir Henry’s son arrives at Chief Inspector Alleyn’s wife’s London flat and begs her to do a portrait of his father. He dangles the eccentricities of his family before her, giving a quick sketch of all the personalities. Unwillingly, she becomes fascinated enough to succumb to his request.</p>
Ngaio Marsh is known for her characterizations, and each of the characters is drawn with enough depth for us to see both redeeming qualities in the repellent and weaknesses in the most noble. You find yourself quite liking the tantrum throwing child, “Panty” and eventually becoming sympathetic to the common, gold-digging fiancée.</p>
I love the stories in this series which feature Agatha Troy, Alleyn’s artist wife. This story occurs near the end of World War II when Troy and Roderick have been separated for several years due to wartime activities, and includes their reunion when Rory returns to England in time to solve the mystery. The glimpses of the British wartime lifestyle are an interesting backdrop to this tale, as are the jobs to which the Alleyn’s have been put by the war. Other stories which are key in their relationship include “Artists in Crime” where they first meet, and “Death in a White Tie” where Alleyn wins Troy’s consent to marry, and “Tied Up in Tinsel” is the story of another portrait painting job gone awry.</p>
I recommend this mystery both as an interesting puzzle with a surprise ending, and as one of the milestone tales in the Alleyn’s personal lives in this wonderful series.</p>
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