Over on Stuck in a Book Simon has started the 1938 Club. What is this I hear you cry? Seemple. Write about a book published in this year that you have read and enjoyed. As a huge amount of my reading falls in the thirties category I have no trouble at all in finding a title. In fact, I have several but we will start with this one. Death in a White Tie by Ngaio Marsh.
Death in a White Tie is, I think, one of her best in her not inconsiderable output. It was published in 1938 and set during The Season, full of gay young debutantes and men about town knocking back the whiskey and soda, twisting their mustaches and eying up the young 'gels'. There is a blackmailer at work in the midst of all this gaiety and fear and suspicion lurks underneath the glittering surface of the social comings and goings.
The central part of the book, the murder and the setting, is a ball given by Sir and Lady Carrados for their daughter Bridget. At this event, the protagonists come and go, up and down stairs, in and out of rooms, ballrooms and buffet, meeting and separating, dancing and weaving in and out of each other's company. The reader feels as if he or she are witnessing a stately dance and close to the end of the book we realise this is a deliberate device as Roderick Alleyn, her glamorous and fascinating detective:
"...saw the protagonists as a company of dancers moving in a figure so elaborate and the pattern of their measure was almost lost in the confusion of individual gestures....to and fro the figures swam more and more dizzily, faster and faster until the confusion was intolerable. Then with terrifying abruptness, they were stricken into immobility and Alleyn in a single flash, saw the pattern of the dance"
I find this book rather touching as the victim, Lord Robert Gospell, is a delightful personality, loved by all and a friend of Alleyn. It is the Ngaio story where she allows her hero to be seen at his most vulnerable as he is also in love with Troy and uncertain of what will happen. He is alone and faintly despairing but must bring all his finesse and personality to solving the crime.
Wonderful list of characters given at the start of the story. Ngaio Marsh always does this and I rejoice heartily in the names and descriptions:
- Lady Evelyn Carrados - a London hostess (wonderful job description!)
- Lord Robert Gospell - a relic of Victorian days
- Sir Daniel Davidson - a fashionable London physician
- Mrs Halcut-Hackett - a social climber
- General Halcut-Hackett - her husband
- Captain Maurice Withers - a Man about Town
- Colombi Dimitri - a fashionable caterer
- Lucy, Dower Marchioness of Lorrimer - an eccentric old lady
- Mr Cuthbert - Manager of The Matador (clearly a Dive...)
Isn't that a simply marvelous collection and doesn't it wet your appetite and make you want to read the book? We are in the same world of course as Lord Peter Wimsey and have mentioned the similarities between him and Roderick Alleyn in other posts on Random, their love for a woman who at first does not seem to reciprocate, their struggle before they win their respective brides, their refinement of spirit and appreciation of beauty and art. Critics of Dorothy Sayers used to say she fell in love with her creation and became besotted with him. Can't help but feel that Ngaio Marsh did the same with her Roderick Alleyn.
My discovery of Lord Peter was many years after my discovery of Roderick but I love them both dearly and find them totally fascinating. Never could understand why Harriet Vane and Agatha Troy pussyfooted around so much with two such gorgeous men in love with them.
Wish I had had such a choice I can tell you. I would have snapped one of them pretty darn quick. Sadly, I cannot track down a work by this author published in 1938 so I cannot burble on about how much I love Lord Peter. There are a couple of Dame Agatha's written in this year so I may have a crack at them as well, but try as I might, the Mighty Poirot lacks that Wimsey allure....