NGAIO MARSH – Photo Finish. Roderick Alleyn #31. Little Brown, hardcover, 1980. Jove, paperback, 1981. Reprinted several more times.

   [Speaking of old pros still at work, as I was in my review of a recent book by Richard Lockridge], the second half of that description goes double for Ngaio Marsh’s latest work. Once again on hand to solve the mystery is her long-time leading character, Chief Superintendent Roderick Alleyn of Scotland Yard.

   Alleyn’s first appearance, then as a Detective Inspector, was – would you believe? – in 1934. This is his and Dame Ngaio’s thirty-first collaboration together.

   And, coincidentally, the theatre has played a large part in many of their cases as well. The connection this time is not as strong as it is in the Lockridge book, but there is one here as well. The scene is a remote hideaway in New Zealand, where a famous opera singer nicknamed La Sommita has commissioned an embarrassingly bad opera to be performed, and naturally with herself in the leading role.

   Also involved is a photographer specializing. in taking extremely candid shots for the more sensationalistic newspapers. There is a bare hint of illicit drug-dealing. What the detective work depends most greatly upon, however, is the mystery that surrounds the keys to La Sommita’ s locked bedroom after she is murdered.

   Alleyn has no Watson along to bounce his theories off this time – his wife Troy having evidently long ago refused to go along with the idea – and so some of his deductions are rather abruptly announced, on what occasionally seems to be mighty little evidence.

   Marsh’s writing style lacks some of the sprightly sparkle to be found in Lockridge’s work, but the surprise she gives us at the end is greater. This is only the latest in a long series of plots designed over the yearns by the reigning Queen of Mystery to catch the unwary reader. She succeeds again.

–Very slightly revised from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 5, No. 1, January-February 1981.


[UPDATE.] There were to be only two more cases for Roderick Alleyn to solve, and one may or may not count:

32. Light Thickens (1982)
33. Money in the Morgue (2018) (with Stella Duffy)