Hand in Glove by Ngaio Marsh
A 1962 novel of family squabbles, muddled letters and an unusual murder is an enjoyable read from an experienced writer of careful, if lively, detection. Featuring Superintendent Roderick Alleyn and the reliable Inspector Fox, this murder mystery of clashing lifestyles and a household under strain represents a well balanced, plotted and well written detective story of a solid type. Marsh is excellent at evoking an atmosphere of a detective carefully weighing up the facts while various characters range around him. The characters are so well drawn as to evoke real reactions in the reader, such as the snobbish Mr. Percival Pyke Period, so keen on family connections and condolences, and the detestable Leonard Leiss, who almost believes himself to be in American films with his slang and dress. The women are also well drawn, as the wonderful, much married Desiree, Lady Bantling attempts to waft her way through family quarrels, and Mary Ralston or Moppett alternates between dubious behaviour with her ‘friend’ Leonard and being a vulnerable young woman. Thus Marsh has skillfully assembled a cast of characters who argue, agree and number amongst them a murderer. Alleyn’s masterly assembling of evidence and characters in a limited number of settings reveals something of her theatrical skills, allowing the detection to proceed in an orderly manner. This is an engaging and enjoyable mystery which marks a satisfying progress via stolen items, small but significant clues and much more to a revealing denouement.
The novel opens with a peaceful start to the day in Mr Pyke Period’s establishment, as his manservant Alfred brings him morning tea. A luncheon is planned, to include a new secretary, Nicola Maitland – Maine, among others, but the peace is soon disturbed by Harold Cartell and his ill trained dog, Pixie, known to Alfred and Mrs Mitchell, the cook, as a particular nuisance. Nicola arrives in the company of a young man, Andrew, who has a request to make to Harold, who is one of the trustees of his late father’s estate. Andrew is also Desiree’s son, who was unhappily married to Harold at one point. A fairly disastrous luncheon occurs, which includes Constance Cartell, Harold’s sister and adoptive aunt to Moppett, who has invited herself and Leonard to lunch. No one is impressed with the young couple’s behaviour, especially when a valuable cigarette case goes missing. A fashionable treasure hunt and other unusual events means that when murder is discovered and Scotland Yard, in the persons of Alleyn, Fox and others arrive, they have a lot to investigate with several potential suspects.
I found this murder mystery very engaging and entertaining, with a limited geographical area to concentrate on and a satisfactory cast of characters. Leonard and to a lesser extent Moppett are genuinely annoying, and Harold with his dog upsetting to the household. Alleyn’s careful investigation takes in several background discoveries which add a great deal to the overall effect. The introduction of his artist wife Troy is well done, and removes him for the list of morose single male detectives. This book has been successfully adapted for television, but having seen that does not remove the pleasure to found in reading this excellent novel which I recommend to all fans of twentieth century detective fiction.