Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Ngaio Marsh: Singing In The Shrouds

Footnote for starters: I got a first edition of this novel, printed in 1958, and unfortunately there are a number of printing errors in it. Big ones, like substituting January with February. However, the book has been read by Uppsala Town Library's own private crime aficionado/proofreader, who's handwriting can be spotted in as good as every crime novel I've borrowed - making corrections, questioning deductions, commenting on storyline etc. Sometimes the PCA/PR makes mistakes in her (most likely it's her. I deduce this from the handwriting, my dear Watson) proofing, and, for example, misunderstands a colloquialism for a spelling error. I wonder if the PCA/PR is still alive. The remarks are, come to think of it, probably only found in the older books. Hm. RIP if you're dead, anonymous crime fiction fan!

This is the one in which a serial killer, moments after his third murder, sails off on a ship bound for South Africa. Roderick Alleyn joins the ship incognito and attempts to prevent a fourth victim. Features the usual Marsh stuff - letters from Alleyn home to Troy, a young couple falling in love, a theatrical character (this time someone who works in television! Must be the first TV celebrity she featured?) and a gay, flamboyant drama queen (a ship steward wannabe dancer). Marsh's homosexual characters are a subject wholly unto themselves, and I'd love to see someone do an academic study of it. Correct me if I'm wrong, but in those days there were "decency laws" in Britain that would prevent her from being too open about the matter. All she could therefore do was drop a hint that every reader would understand, such as:

" 'To make a vulgar practical joke out of what may have been the wretched little creature's tragedy - his own private, inexorable weakness - his devil!' " (Spoken by the conservative spinster.)

" Why the hell did the D-B have to dress up a queer steward [ ... ] " (Alleyn.)

Like I said, an academic study would be interesting. How widespread was the use of "queer" for "homosexual" in 1958? It does come across as ambigious.

Right, some typical Marsh quotes to finish off:

"They settled down to talk Anglo-Catholic shop.
Mrs. Cuddy, overhearing them, smelt Popery."

"She looked so dazzling that she sounded brilliant."

The woman's ace I tell you, ace.

2 comments:

Lisa said...

Sweet and clever review!

bani said...

Tackar! :-)