Friday, 19 February 1999

Ngaio Marsh: Hand in Glove (1962)

Edition: Fontana
Review number: 215

This is another Marsh novel which is very much in the rather unfortunate shadow of Agatha Christie. The cast of characters, upper class, Home Counties village dwellers, could come out of a number of Christie's novels, and there is not much of Marsh's personality in this book.

The plot itself is not particularly interesting; Mr Harold Carteret's dead body is found under a large, heavy pipe in a ditch being dug by workmen, following a party held by his ex-wife before and during which he quarreled with just about everyone in the village. Naturally, the question of who killed him is quickly and easily solved by Chief Inspector Alleyn.

The characters are very exaggerated. They include Pyke Period, incredibly camp - though no insinuations about his private life are made, this being 1959 and the crime novel, even then, an old-fashioned genre in the way it treated such things. He is not so unbelievable as the trio made up of Constance Cartell, an incredibly stupid middle-aged hearty spinster, her adopted niece Mary Ralston or "Moppet", and the young crook Leonard Leiss. He and Moppet together form an illustration of the thirties' idea of "a bad lot", male and female of the species. The two of them are very unpleasant, but this is matched by the unbelievable doting fondness of Constance for Moppet, her unwillingness to believe that she might ever have done something wrong.

For some reason, it is almost always the case, when Marsh uses an upper class background for her stories, that her cast consists of caricatures.

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