Dead Water (Roderick Alleyn #23), Ngaio Marsh. New York: Felony & Mayhem Press, 2015 (originally published in 1963).
Summary: A spring on an island celebrated for its healing powers becomes the site of the murder.
Wally Trehern is the laughing stock of his school, what with the warts all over his hand. He lives on a small island, connected at low tide by a causeway to the English coast, making his ostracism even more painful. One day, he flees to a spring and sees a lady dressed in green who bids him wash his hands in the spring. Miraculously his warts disappear. Word spreads. The doctor, Bob Mane, the teacher, Jenny Williams, and the minister, Reverend Carstairs are supportive but cautious. Others are less so. Elspeth Cost, a spinster owner of a gift shop claims that the spring cured her asthma. Major Barrimore and his wife Margaret, owners of the island hotel stand to benefit, as do the Treherns.
Two years later, the island has been transformed into a tourist attraction–the hotel spruced up, the gift shop selling statues of the Green Lady, and the Treherns setting up a museum. The spring is gated and admission charged. Elspeth Cost even plans a Green Lady festival, creates tacky poetry for the occasion. It all works. Tourists and cure seekers come. Some claim cures.
But Emily Pride disapproves of the whole enterprise. She has inherited the island from her sister, and she is troubled by the falsely raised hopes and the commercialization of the spring and the island taking place. She communicates her intent to close it down and plans a visit. And the threats begin. She mentions it to Alleyn, who she had taught his French. He’s on holiday but when the threats intensify and she is injured by a rock thrown and endangered by a trip wire strung by the ledge overlooking the spring, where she was accustomed to sit, holding her black “brolly.” Alleyn decides he must interrupt his holiday to look after her and try to get her off the island.
She agrees to let the festival proceed though it is routed with rain. The next morning Miss Pride posts notices early at the spring about her intent to close the enterprise down amid another rain. An hour later, Alleyn is out walking by the spring when he spies a body face down along with a black brolly.
The resolution of the murder hinges on the classic devices of crime fiction: timelines, alibis, and the secrets and motives of the people who could be suspects–everyone from Wally Trehern to Major Barrimore. The climax is exciting with Alleyn pursuing the murderer and engaging in a struggle on a launch amid a rip-roaring storm.
Sometimes, Marsh’s characters can seem stock, as do some in this case like the minister and Wally’s drunken mother. Emily Pride is a stubbornly delightful eighty-something with attitude, Elspeth Cost is a combination entrepreneur and sexually frustrated dingbat. There is a heartwarming romance subplot between Wally’s caring teacher Jenny Williams and Patrick Barrimore, the innkeeper’s son. All the elements of a good story are here and come together well.
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