Swing, Brother, Jones (Inspector Alleyn #15), Ngaio Marsh. New York: Felony & Mayhem Press, 2012 (originally published in 1949).
Summary: An eccentric British Lord joins a swing band for a number that involves a gun, and the person at whom he shoots is actually killed with an unusual projectile–a knitting needle–right in front of Alleyn!
Lord Pastern and Baggott fits the stereotype of an eccentric English Lord. His latest craze is swing and he sponsors Breezy Bellair and His Boys as they rehearse in his ballroom for gigs at the Metronome, a swanky club. He’s so into it he even writes a piece in which he stands in for the veteran drummer, Syd Skelton. At the climax of the piece, he plans to fake the shooting of the rest of the band beginning with Carlos da Rivera, who is nearly engaged to his daughter, Félicité. He even makes an elaborate show before his wife’s niece Carlisle Wayne, of showing how he has extracted each bullet to make the blanks in the pistol.
No one likes Rivera, with the possible exception of Lord Pastern. Cecile, his wife, detests him. The band leader, Breezy Bellair, is upset with him because he is not going to continue getting him his drugs. Félicité has been dragging her feet and at a dinner before the show, broke off the relationship. Rivera didn’t help things with making a pass at Carlisle. Ned Manx, a drama critic who writes for Harmony, a tabloid-type paper had words after dinner and socked him one on the ear.
We all see it coming, don’t we? I feel like crying out, don’t go through with the gag! Breezy is nervous about it and has Syd Skelton check out the gun before the act. He see’s nothing amiss. The gun is placed under a sombrero located near the table of Lord Pastern and Baggott’s party. Conveniently, Alleyn and Troy, who is expecting (!) are at the next table. Lord Pastern and Baggott goes through with the gag, and Rivera, unlike the other band members really falls down, and Breezy places a wreath over him, only to find that Rivera has really been seriously wounded with a needle-like projectile in his chest. Bellair has him taken out to an office and a doctor called, but it is too late. Rivera is dead. Lord Pastern and Baggott turns over the gun to Bellair who gives it to Alleyn. Scratches are found in the barrel consistent with the projectile, held in place by an umbrella release.
And Alleyn has a host of suspects–nearly everyone in Lord Pastern and Baggott’s party as well as several band members. Meanwhile he has to calm down the drug strung out Bellair and deal with the eccentric Lord who all but incriminates himself. Meanwhile, he has to figure out how the projectile, a knitting needle from Lady Cecile’s workbox found its way into Rivera’s chest..
I didn’t see the resolution of this one coming. Marsh’s red herrings drew me off. The plot where a pretended murder becomes an actual one is one Marsh will use again in Light Thickens, once again with Alleyn in the front row, a witness to the murder. Alleyn and Fox work patiently, refusing to be deflected by neither an annoying family nor the red herrings the killer used to throw Alleyn (and us) off track. An altogether satisfying ending, although it leaves us feeling that wealth is wasted on the rich.