©1956 Ngaio Marsh; (P)2000 Blackstone Audiobooks
I am a big fan of Dorothy Sayers, Agatha Christie, Margery Allingham, etc, and this is my first try at Marsh, and I was very impressed with the delicate, spot-on characterizations of provincial Dorset life, the gossip, the politics, and above all the people. If you like the English mystery-- very little blood spilled, but looks that could kill --Overture to Death will fit the bill. Marsh is terrific.
I have fallen in love with Inspector Roderick Alleyn and plan on listening to them all. So I went back to the beginning of Marsh's books even though I've listened to many of the later stories. This was another wonderful mystery that, as usual, left me scratching my head through most of the story. What a surprise solution even after I had the identity of the murderer figured out, I couldn't figure out the "how". I loved the images and the characters the author created. I didn't think I'd like a woman narrator but I was surprised and very pleased. Definately another winner. I love the way Marsh keeps some of the characters coming back from book to book. Worth the listen.
This is my second Marsh book, following Colour Scheme. The action takes place in a small village (are there any large towns in England, other than London?) and involves a cast of quirky characters who are very well drawn and fleshed out for the most part. Marsh is superb at describing mannerisms and expressions that tell us what a character is really like beyond the surface. She puts her characters into a seemingly irresolvable situation that, at first, seems destined to go on and on forever--until murder steps in. Suddenly, everything changes, mostly for the worse and goes downhill from there. As with a good Christie tale, there are many suspects who have the motive and, at least for a while, seemingly the opportunity. (The method for the murder is really ingenious!) However, some of the suspects can be fairly quickly dismissed, if for no other reason than no author would make them the killer. The real killer's identity is telegraphed about 2/3 of the way through with a single, critical clue that we know well before Inspector Alleyn does. Despite that, the book is a great listen.
Narration - Nadia May - lovely voice, and really quite perfect for this book. In general I prefer James Saxon's narrations to her for this series, but for this book I think she is absolutely perfect.
Sound quality - The sound quality of this version is superb.
Characters - One of Marsh's greatest attributes in her books is her quite believable and eclectic characters. Sometimes they lean a bit too far and make it hard to buy into them, but overall she does a fabulous job. This book in the series is one of the best as far as characterization. Early on in the novel she gives profound glimpses of what each character is thinking during a meeting and by doing so she really sets the scene for their development throughout the book. The squire is full of his self-importance, a bit self-centered, and a bit foolish but still quite likeable perhaps because his son is so devoted to him. The son is in the throws of love and is at that point in most young people's lives where they are bridging being a child who cares only for himself and being an adult accepting responsibility for others and seeing the world as it is instead of what he wants it to be. The spinster cousin who moved in after the death of the squire's wife is a pathetic character who is much deeper than she appears. The rector reminds me of my uncle who is a minister. He is truly a lovely person but just a bit out-of-touch with the real world. His daughter, who is caught up in the rapture of love with the squire's son, is another truly lovely person. She has a sense of herself, cares for her father who she recognizes needs someone to recognize the true characters and actions of the world, and is still quite a bit of a child. The other spinster in the play is a rich bitch version of the spinster cousin and is the rival for the rector's affections which neither has a chance of winning. The merry widow and the doctor, her lover, are shallow characters who are too wrapped up in their own selfishness to make them truly likeable, but do provide a sense of reality to a small village setting.
Overall - The plot is well developed. The characters above are performing a play to get a new piano for the church. The spinsters are competing for the attention of the vicar, who is frustrated with dealing with them. The young lovers are being opposed by their parental figures, including the spinster cousin who is creating mischief all over by tattling and prattling. There is a lot of comedic relief included in the plot as the character bumble through the days leading up to the murder. The actual murder itself is put together well even if it is a bit farfetched, but even that fits the tone of the village. The big question throughout the book is who the intended victim really was. Depending on the answer to that, there are a multitude of motives and secrets which leads the reader on a lovely meandering through the book trying to guess the murderer. Many times I did feel as though I was certain of the murderer, but then a new fact would be introduced that would make me doubt my conclusion. There is a central point which if the reader latches onto really makes it clear who the murderer is. Overall I really enjoyed this book in the series and would recommend it as part of the series or as a stand alone (although due to the way Marsh interweaves her plots and characters I strongly recommend always reading this series in order).
The author attempts to imitate the style of Agatha Christie and lacks any originality. The story is lame and the characterisation putrid having no literary merit. I only finished this book on account of the narration. This might be OK for adolescents and I would rate it as minus 2 if I could. If you're looking for a good detective story, don't get this.
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