The season had begun. Débutantes and chaperones were planning their luncheons, teas, dinners, balls. And the blackmailer was planning his strategies, stalking his next victim. But Chief Detective Inspector Roderick Alleyn knew that something was up. He had already planted his friend Lord Robert Gospell at the scene. But someone else got there first...
©1938 Ngaio Marsh; (P)2008 Hachette Digital
On the whole, probably not. I'm a fan of Ngaio Marsh and other classic English mystery writers largely for the restoratively escapist experience they provide -- the luxury of immersing myself in a not-too-serious puzzle in an elegantly mannered, rarified society at a distant time, without bothering my little head about the real world questions of social justice and an impermeable class system, economic depression, and xenophobia that also characterized these times. I also consider listening to the perfect vowels and resonant tones of Benedict Cumberbatch's voice a truly satisfying indulgence. Unfortunately, Cumberbatch doesn't do young women spectacularly well, and he does American women less successfully than English women. Since many of the most importent characters in this story, both the ones we're supposed to love and the ones were supposed to despise, are women, that fact makes the escapist exercise of suspending disbelief more difficult, the experience a bit less satisfying. Moreover, I have never thought that Marsh does very well by her characters when they are trying to express deep emotions, especially romantic ones. Lines that had struck me as uninspired or unsuccessful when reading this old favorite--but which I shrugged off, and read on in search of the bad guys -- are revealed as jaw-droppingly silly, vapid, even embarrassing in narration. (I suspect that the abridgment makes it even worse, as these things seem to come even more out of the blue than in the original, but I think the fault is there in the original.). Again, hard to stay rapt in the the moment when the urbane hero is making an implausible goob of himself. Overall I still enjoyed both the narration and the story, but I suspect that I could have spent the time on much more edifying or, alternatively, more effectively escapist, offerings.
Either left the development of the Alleyn -- Troy romance to another time, or done much more with it, more believably. I also would have made Cumberbatch's interpretations of the characters "Donna" and Bridget less affected and more straightforward.
A toss-up. Cumberbatch's voice is ideal for Alleyn: I don't think I'd want to hear anyone else do it. Cumberbatch brought out aspects of Lord Robert Gospell's character that I had overlooked when reading the book, so I was surprised and then impressed by what he did with that character.
As to writing, a moot point: there are many, many Alleyn books, and Dame Ngaio is no longer with us. As to recording, yes, absolutely. Cumberbatch should do as many of these books as possible, preferably focussing on books that have a high proportion of men and/or elderly women in the dramatis personae. And then he should do the Campion stories. And the Lord Peter Wimsey stories. And all the Sherlock Holmes.
Benedict Cumberbatch reads Marsh's work brilliantly, giving the story charm and humour, emotion and detail. Set in an upper class realm of debutantes and high society, Marsh's mystery makes for a very entertaining and amusing audiobook. Highly recommended.
Unbelievably dense, overwrought, and - ultimately - silly. One of those mysteries where meaningful information is too concentrated in the pages dedicated to the solution. I love tales of the English class system - no Bolshi I - but too much of the milieu of this book is preposterous. It gets three stars because the reader was top-notch.
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