Hand in Glove (Roderick Alleyn #22), Ngaio Marsh. New York: Felony & Mayhem Press, 2015 (originally published in 1962).
Summary: An April Fool’s scavenger hunt organized by Lady Bantling ends badly when a body is found under a drainage pipe in a ditch.
It all started at lunch. Nicola Maitland-Mayne had been escorted by Andrew Bantling, with whom she is quickly taken, to the home of Mr. Percival Pyke Period. She is employed to take dictation on Pyke Period’s book on etiquette. Mr. Pyke Period invites her to what ends up a disastrous lunch. Andrew has departed to Lady Bantling’s after an angry interview with Harold Cartell, his guardian who refuses to make over Andrew’s inheritance to him so he can pursue a career as an artist. He opposed Andrew’s decision to leave the Guards to pursue his art. Harold Cartell seems generally disagreeable, a lawyer who has moved in with Pyke Period to conserve costs. He makes a disagreeable allusion to Pyke Period’s ancestry. He also has a truly annoying dog, Pixie, which is always getting loose and bites. Also at the lunch is sad Connie Cartell, Harold’s spinster sister has taken a 20 year old orphan, “Moppet,” under her wing. Moppet is accompanied by Leonard Leiss, a flashy dresser with a criminal background. Harold Cartell has insisted Connie end her relationship with these ne’er-do-wells. The lunch ends with Leiss looking at a cigarette case owned by Pyke Period which subsequently goes missing.
The scene shifts to Lady Bantling’s, Harold Cartell’s former wife, now married to Bimbo Dodds, who it turns out has club connections with Leiss. She’s organizing one of her legendary parties for April Fool’s, a scavenger hunt. Leiss and the Moppet wrangle an invitation and Andrew invites Nicola to join the fun. Everyone is out at one point or another in the evening. The next morning, Harold Cartell is found in a drainage ditch being dug for Mr. Pyke Period, underneath a length of drain pipe that has shattered his skull. It seems someone moved boards over the ditch everyone used so that the board upturned, knocking Cartell into the ditch, along with a lantern. Also, Mr. Pyke Period’s cigarette case is lying nearby in the ditch.
Nicola’s friend, Roderick Alleyn and his assistant, Inspector Fox are called in. Now she is a front row witness. Nearly everyone mentioned here are possible suspects. Cartell was not a beloved man. It all comes down to some missing gloves, and the hands that had been in them, moving the plank and levering the pipe into the ditch, as well as a mix up in correspondence from Pyke Period.
The upper crust folk come off pretty unlikeable, although Lady Bantling is a character. Andrew and Nicola stand out. While Andrew had a motive, he’d sat with Nicola in the car and then returned with her to Lady Bantling’s at the end of the scavenger hunt. They also stand out as the two people who are actually working to make a living; he in his art, she in her secretarial work. Eventually, even Troy affirms his art. The others seem to live vacuous lives, as do most of the wealthy in the other of Marsh’s novels I’ve read. One can’t help but to see thinly-veiled social commentary in these depictions.
While all of Marsh’s books are decent reads, this felt more workmanlike than some when it came to solving the actual murder (and another murder attempt). The eccentric but somewhat one-dimensional characters seemed to dominate the plot more than the twists and turns of unraveling the murder. I do hope, however, that we haven’t seen the last of Andrew and Nicola.