Wednesday, 28 July 1999

Ngaio Marsh: Tied Up in Tinsel (1972)

Edition: Fontana, 1973
Review number: 299

This novel was published in the early seventies, but like most of Marsh's later works it still reads as though set in the thirties. The contemporary references it contains (there is one on the first page to Steptoe and Son, for example) seem rather out of place. Part of the reason for this is Alleyn's refusal to age; he spends over thirty years in his early forties. (Other authors managed to do this more convincingly: Leslie Charteris keeps Simon Templar around thirty, but he remains contemporary with his surroundings.)

It is hardly surprising, given the title, that Tied Up in Tinsel is set at Christmas. It is an English country house party Christmas, as portrayed in several Marsh novels (and innumerable Christie ones). It is the title that leads me to suspect that it was written specifically for the Christmas present market in what is perhaps a rather cynical way.

As happens so frequently, Troy Alleyn becomes involved in a murder through her painting. The victim is the personal servant of one of the houseguests - this is one of the reasons that the novel seems to be more of the thirties than of the seventies. The house servants are the one element which marks out Tied Up in Tinsel from so many other crime novels. Owing to a particular interest in criminal reform on the part of the house's owner, they are all convicted murderers, men considered particularly unlikely to re-offend. This provides a mechanism by which the puzzle can be made more convoluted. While it would not really be fair to make the murderers objects of suspicion - and those involved in the investigation affirm their innocence throughout - their fear of an automatic assumption of their guilt is used to motivate truculence, lying and obstruction.

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