Friday, 21 August 1998

Ngaio Marsh: Swing, Brother, Swing (1949)

Edition: Fontana, 1974
Review number: 107

Another formulaic mystery from Ngaio Marsh. The jazz band setting gives this a rather thirties feel, though the band is clearly modelled on Spike Jones and the City Slickers rather than on a thirties act. IT features an eccentric peer, Lord Pastern & Bagot, who has periodic enthusiasms; his current hobby is jazz percussion. He persuades Breezy Bellairs to let him join "the Boys" on stage as a promotional stunt; this will end with a trick where Lord Pastern pretends to shoot the accordion player, Carlos Rivera. Needless to say, in the event, the trick goes wrong and someone has replaced the blank cartridge with (bizarrely) the unscrewed tip of a parasol, and this kills Rivera.

Such theatrical events gone wrong are the hackneyed currency of this type of novel; this one must be at least the third in which Marsh has used the trick and it would certainly not be the last.

Alleyn, as usual, manages to sort out the mystery, which has complications involving Rivera's courtship of Lord Pastern's stepdaughter, the identity of an "agony uncle" who signs himself G.P.F. ("Guide, Philosopher and Friend", nauseatingly enough) and the London drugs trade. The writing is competent, as usual for Marsh, but the hackneyed nature of the plotting drags down the book's standard to among the lesser of her creations.

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