Thursday, 22 October 2015

Death in a White Tie by Ngaio Marsh: part 2


published 1938



Death in a White Tie Troy


“Good morning,” said a voice from the doorway. He swung round in his chair and saw Agatha Troy. She was dressed in green and had a little velvet cap on her dark head and green gloves on her hands.

“Troy!”

“I came in to see if there was anything I could do for Mildred.”
“You didn’t know I was here?”…


Troy sat on the edge of the desk and pulled off her cap. The morning sun came through the window and dappled her short dark hair with blue lights. It caught the fine angle of her jaw and her cheek-bone. It shone into her eyes, making her screw them up as she did when she painted. She drew off her green gloves and Alleyn watched her thin intelligent hands slide out of their sheaths and lie delicately in [the fur of her] green jacket. He wondered if he would ever recover from the love of her.
 
 
commentary: There was an earlier entry on this book, here, and while it doesn’t exactly demand a second one – it’s not one of Marsh’s best – some of the details of the book demanded another look from me, and I can never resist any debutante/season/coming-out book.

Troy and Alleyn met in Artists in Crime: in this book their romance comes to a climax (not really a spoiler when she features in so many subsequent books.) She is a 1930s version of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl (I was quite ready to diagnose the 1960s version in a Len Deighton book here) while of course being a world-class portrait painter and a person of great principle. She’s not quite as annoying as that should all make her though.

I was interested in her hat being described as a cap – on reading this I just made up a theory that Golden Age crime writers put only heroines (ie women they like) into a cap-rather-than-hat – is it meant to show that they are cheery and informal and somewhat tomboyish? I’m pretty certain that Dorothy L Sayers’ fictional alter ego Harriet D Vane wears a cap from time to time, and am now going to start logging cap references in these books.

She’s a funny mixture, Marsh: when she wants you to dislike a wicked character she describes his flat which has ‘an exercise in pornographic photography… frankly infamous’ on the wall, and indecent novels on the bookshelves, and mentions both several times, with great disgust, in case you missed the point.

On the other hand she describes a very fashionably decorated house, then shows us a study full of leather and sporting prints:
Alleyn wondered if the General had stood with his cavalry sabre on the threshold of this room, daring the fashionable decorator to come on and see what would get.
I’m surprised she can be so clichéd in the 1st description, and so charming in the second.

I also enjoyed the description of the fashionable but very dubious nightclub – while all kinds of blackmail and murder is going on all around, one unhappy mother is horrified to find her daughter has visited the club: ‘It just simply isn’t done by debutantes. No really that was very naughty.’

(Cf Nancy Mitford in The Pursuit of Love: ‘Aunt Sadie was beginning to wonder whether Linda had not committed the unforgivable sin, and gone off to a night club.’)

The picture is a 1935 ensemble from Kristine’s photostream.














14 comments:

  1. Hmmmmmm...you've raised an interesting question, Moira, about caps. I'll be looking forward to what you find about how authors use that term to reveal things about characters' personalities. I know what you mean about Marsh's writing; she does things that seem quite inconsistent now and again. But somehow I always end up drawn to her wit and to her ability to describe characters. There's just something about her work...

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    1. Yes I agree Margot - I have my issues with her, but when she's on form she's topnotch - great characterisation and great humour. I will continue to look out for caps, and hope you will let me know if you find any in your reading.

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  2. I remember reading this years ago and really enjoying it. However some crime novels are not so good if you remember whodunit (while others are fine) and I think this might be one of them.

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    1. Yes - that's a good point. There are some Christies that are mediocre but still bear re-reading because I can never remember the truth of the matter. The Clocks is Exhibit no. 1 here. I am thinking hard and simply cannot remember the plot...

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  3. Well, when it comes to Marsh I always need extra convincing and do have this book, so thanks for round two Moira! :)

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    1. I've read a few over the past few months, and when I finish them I think 'well that was OK, but it's not the one that's going to change Sergio's mind.' I think the reasons I enjoyed this one were VERY Clothes in Books: debutantes, 1930s social season etc...

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  4. Carrying on yesterday's conversation - you're not slowing me down at all......

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  5. I first came across the author's books in the early 1960s and I think I have read most of them, some of them several times. I think I have read this one before but if I had I did not remember it. It was first published in 1938 and is a bit of a period piece but has a great deal of charm. Unlike Agatha Christie, and perhaps Dorothy Sayers, Ngaio Marsh was happy to write about posh people whilst also poking fun at them. By no means her best story but definitely worth a read.
    I read this in the omnibus which also contains "Overture to death" and "Death at the bar"

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    1. Yes that's a good description of her - I could have done with more poking fun at the rich people, but she did try! Those omnibuses - I always have one of the books already, so am never sure if it's worth buying them. I have one with Hand in Glove, Dead water and Death at the Dolphin.

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  6. I have all of her books but don't know when I will return to them. All the recent reviews I have read are lukewarm.

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    1. I don't think the murder plots are that good, to be honest, but I love the details of life she gives, particularly the theatre ones, and some of them are very funny and entertaining. A bit like Georgette Heyer.

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    2. NIGHT AT THE VULCAN was the one I read most recently (and I have probably said this before here but...). It was enjoyable because of the theater background and the characters, and the first half was good but the crime doesn't happen until after that. Then when the investigators show up, it just isn't as interesting. I was disappointed because I had remembered liking them so much. And it had not been that long since I had read them. Maybe the later ones are not as good, maybe I wasn't in the mood, but I do need to give the books another chance. Sometime.

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    3. That's on my list - I wonder if it was because you mentioned it? At the moment they seem to me to be worth the effort for the reasons I give above, but I may run out of patience.

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