Tuesday, 28 July 1998

Ngaio Marsh: Died in the Wool (1945)

Died in the Wool coverEdition: Fontana, 1972
Review number: 91

A second wartime Alleyn mystery set in New Zealand (following on from Colour Scheme). The idea that Alleyn was in New Zealand as a counter-intelligence officer rather than a homicide department police officer means that some reason needs to be given for him to investigate a murder. In this case, the security implication is a possible link with an engineering design project under way at a remote sheep-station.

Florence Rubrick was an MP and the wife of the owner of the station. She went missing in the middle of the shearing season, and was later found in the middle of a compressed bale of wool sent down to the buyers. This gruesome method of disposing of the body is completely incorrectly shown in the picture on the front of this edition, which shows a clearly recognizable body lying among some loose wool; as described in the book, the body had been put through an extremely powerful press. I suppose the publishers couldn't show that, but I find the cover pictures of other Ngaio Marsh novels in the same edition not very good; they're basically photographs of (models made up to look like) the body and are often inaccurate or emphasise details carefully hidden in the narrative so that important parts of the solution to the mystery are given away.

The investigation is conducted in a rather unusual way; each of the members of the family in turn talks about their idea of what Florence Rubrick was like. Alleyn also has the notes on the inconclusive police investigation that was ended before a possible espionage connection was suggested. However, he is handicapped by the death of Florence's husband since this original investigation.

All in all, this is another excellent member of the series.

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