“That business with the gun went off all right, Felix,” Simpson said, “though I must say I was nervous about it. I hate a fake.”
“Was it all right from the front?” asked Surbonadier, turning to Nigel Bathgate.
“What do you mean?” asked Nigel. “What business with the gun?”
“My God, he doesn’t even remember it!” sighed Felix Gardener. “In the third act, my dear chap, I shoot the Beaver — Arthur — Mr. Surbonadier at close range and he falls down dead.”
And in fact, on the night when police detective Roderick Alleyn is watching the play in the comfort of a fifteen-and-sixpenny stall, that is precisely what happens: in the third act, Felix Gardener takes the gun that normally contains dummy cartridges, pulls the trigger, and Arthur Surbonadier falls down actually dead. The fact that he was a drug-taking, woman-abusing blackmailer only complicates matters…
Enter a Murderer is only the second novel I’ve ever read by Ngaio Marsh, and I was absolutely captivated by it. The first one (A Man Lay Dead) I enjoyed mildly, but if I am to be honest (and with whom can I be honest if not you, dear blog readers?) I felt justified in not having read Marsh before now. What was the big deal, anyway? But having had a second encounter with Alleyn, I feel ashamed of my smugness, because Alleyn is The Goods. He’s literate and facetious and funny, but nothing gets in the way of his job. Never would he allow himself to be an amateur detective, because he could not permit himself to avoid unpleasantness. He sees right through the mess, but he doesn’t miss steps.
I will also say that the rest of the book was excellent. The mystery itself is well-constructed, and the secondary characters are lively and well-drawn. The setting is the theatre, which was apparently one of Marsh’s lifelong passions, and the details are wonderfully evocative. I actually recently read a different murder mystery, by Michael Innes, set in the world of amateur theatre, and also excellent, but this didn’t feel repetitive or derivative — it felt exciting and interesting. Ah yes, this is The Goods, ladies and gentlemen. I am not going to wait so long to read the next one, because we need to make a closer acquaintance. I like to read these in order, but does anyone have any particular favorites with Marsh?