Comments: 5
I hate the solution of this one -- not on technical but on motivational grounds. I guess I get what Marsh was doing here, but I don't think it's well-executed at all.

The British Home Secretary is the equivalent of the Secretary of the Interior (and in his remit falls, inter alia, the supervision of most things police and internal security; including the investigation of suspect political activities).
The Quilty Reader 3 months ago
Thank you for the rundown of the Home Secretary.

And, yeah, the solution to the murder was pretty bad - I too get her point, but I agree that it wasn't well executed at all.

Have you read any other Alleyn mysteries? I liked the writing style, so I'm interested in reading more.
Yes, I binge-read the entire series a few years ago and am in the process of revisiting them (more slowly this time around) on audio.

My favorites are those of her mysteries either set in the countryside -- she was very good at drawing characters and scenery and, as a result, was what she herself would probably have called "a truly dab hand" at the subtle ridicule of early 20th century English rural society -- or in the world of the theatre (which was her own primary world, even before mystery writing, and it shows in her handling of characters who are actors, and theatrical settings in general; FWIW, neither Alleyn's last name nore his penchant for Shakespeare[an quotes] are a coincidence, either). I particularly like several of the mysteries she managed to set in her native New Zealand, too.

The first two "must reads" of the series are probably books nos. 6 and 7 ("Artists in Crime" and "Death in a White Tie") -- though no. 6 ("Artists in Crime") not so much for its mystery content but for the fact that this is where Alleyn meets his future wife, an artist named Agatha Troy, who will become an important character in the series later on (and a great one, at that). No. 7 ("Death in a White Tie"), though, is one of my all-time favorite installments; for one thing, it's a brilliant take-down of the London "season" and everything it entailed; in addition to which, the murder here very much gets under Alleyn's skin, so unlike other fictional detectives of the era, he is shown to be deeply emotional (instead of merely being a crime-solving automaton with the odd quirk or other), which to me adds greatly to his likeability and accessibility. -- As a side note, I also like the ending of "Death in a White Tie", which shows that solving a crime and successfully prosecuting it are very much two different and separate things, and sometimes it takes quite an amount of risk, as well as sheer luck, to bring the two together.

Everything up to (and, apart from Troy, including) book no. 6 is what I'd consider Marsh's apprentice phase as a crime writer. That definitely also includes "The Nursing Home Murder." -- Also, beware of criminal conspiracy / spy / drug peddling plots ... Marsh wasn't any better at those than Christie.

Ummm. < / fangirlvoice > :D
The Quilty Reader 3 months ago
That's good news, though! I've been stylistically underwhelmed by a lot of the golden age authors, but Marsh seemed to have some solid writing skills and her flow and fluency kept me engaged. She approached Christie in her ability to paint a scene, if you know what I mean.

Can I skip the remainder of the first five, or will I be lost?
You won't be lost. There's an allusion to book 2 ("Enter a Murderer" -- her first book set in a theatrical context) in one of the later books, "Opening Night" (aka "Night at the Vulcan" in the U.S.), which is set in the same theatre, but you don't have to have read the earlier book to understand the references in the later book. (It does contain a spoiler as to the murder method, though, so I probably wouldn't read those two too closely together, or at least, if you do want to read both of them after all, you might want to switch back to "Enter a Murderer" *before* moving on to "Opening Night" / "Night at the Vulcan"). But that still doesn't mean you have to read all of the first five books to be able to follow the later ones.

FWIW, Alleyn has an extra sort of semi-side kick, a young journalist named Nigel Bathgate, in some of the earlier books, but Nigel as good as disappears later on and is replaced by Troy. The last book where I distinctly recall him making a memorable showing is book 10, "Death of a Peer" (aka "A Surfeit of Lampreys" in the U.S.).

That being said, there are individual books that, while they're not directly in a prequel / sequel relationship, they are loosely connected by setting, similar to "Enter a Murderer" and "Opening Night" / "Night at the Vulcan", so as from books 6 and 7 onwards, it probably does make a certain amount of sense to read the series (or at least those books) in order. I didn't, frankly, and didn't feel I'm missing too much either way, but I had a few "aha" moments as to references to a given earlier case in a later book when reading them in inverse order. E.g., the very first book I read, and the one that had me hooked right away, was Marsh's very last one, "Light Thickens" (book 32), which is set in the same theatre -- and involves the same theatrical director -- as book 24, "Death at the Dolphin" [aka "Killer Dolphin" in the U.S.], and there are more than a few allusions to the "Dolphin" book in "Light Thickens" ("Dolphin" is the name of the theatre, btw); and there's a similar, albeit even more loose connection between "Ouverture to Death" (book 8) and "Death and the Dancing Footman" (book 11).

One (last -- I promise :D) thing you need to know about Marsh titles is that, as you can probably tell even from what I've written above, her American publishers changed the titles of some of her books. As a rule of thumb, if you're looking at a St. Martin's Minotaur edition, you're looking at the American title -- if you're looking at a HarperCollins edition, it's very likely going to be the British one. In addition to the books mentioned above, those with changed American titles are "Swing, Brother, Swing" ("A Wreath for Rivera" in the U.S.) -- not one of my favorites -- and "Off With His Head" ("Death of a Fool" in the U.S.); the latter one, I do rather like, even though it does contain some stereotyping.