Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Ngaoi Marsh: Death and the Dancing Footman

It feels very trivial to be writing a blog entry on a vintage crime novel when the Middle East is in such turmoil. I keep checking the news, hoping that information will start to flow soon, that reason will start to prevail and most importantly that everyone accepts their own responsability for what they themselves have done. My opinion is that it's horrendous for a nation to board ships in international waters - unless there's a very good cause indeed, in which case the information should be out there for all to see. Yet it's even more depressing to contemplate even the possibility that there might have been activists preparing for violence. I sincerely hope that this mission  wasn't deliberately sabotaged in that way. There were a lot of people involved who wanted it to be a mission of trust, and whose reasons for going were as much about defying Hamas as defying the Israeli blockade, I'm sure of that. What a minefield it all is.

Shall we lose ourselves in the world of house-parties and gentlemen detectives instead? But with a little nod towards war, nonetheless. Death and the Dancing Footman is from 1942, so WW2 hovers over the proceedings. The real shortages hadn't started when she wrote it, that's clear, as Jonathan Royal prepares a weekend party for a motley group of guests, all invited precisely because there is tremendous enmity between them. There seems to be no lack of great food and booze for mr Royal. His friend and confidante is a playwright named Mandrake. Being the only one with no ties to any of the other guests he is told about Royal's plans for the weekend. Royal wishes to be creative, but having no painting, musical or other skills he has decided for the unconventional medium of people. By forcing together people who dislike each other he hopes for drama and for the resolution of conflicts and lovers' tiffs. Obviously, someone gets murdered.

I was rather pleased with myself for spotting the murderer quite soon, and based on clues in the book too. It really was obvious, only one person could have done it.

I'd like to take a picture of the covers of a few of these Marshes I bought. They really are spectacularly odd - a set of the murder has been arranged and photographed, including pools of unrealistic blood. I wonder who these people were who posed for these covers? Actors of the lower grades? Artists' models? Friends of the publisher, doing it for a laugh? Was there a special guild? Special agencies? Could one trace one of the models now and ask? So many questions.

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