Review: False Scent

False Scent (Roderick Alleyn #21), Ngaio Marsh. New York: Felony & Mayhem, 2015 (originally published in 1959).

Summary: The fiftieth birthday celebration of famed stage actress Mary Bellamy is interrupted when she is found dead in her bedroom, poisoned by her own insecticide.

It’s the fiftieth birthday celebration for Mary Bellamy, a famed stage actress, and supposedly much-loved by those around her, who visit her throughout the day and are present for her birthday celebration that evening. Like many famous, aging actresses, she both holds power over the lives of others and is jealous of them all as she recognizes those rising in the world, even as she struggles to keep her edge. Those around her have noticed she is increasingly agitated.

Her husband, a businessman, worries about her use of an insecticide called Slaypest on the flowers in her bedroom. Her ward, Dickie Dakers, adopted by Mary and her husband when young, is a budding playwright who has written one play in which Mary has starred and has another one, with a lead part written, not for her, but his romantic interest, a young actress working at a nearby bookstore. Dickie has not yet told her. There is a former lover, an actress friend, a costumer, and a director, all dependent on the whims of Mary…and the Management. There are also a nanny and her dresser, rivals with each other, thinking the worst of the other.

The tensions simmer through the day, although Mary, disapproving of Dickie’s love interest, schemes to invite her to the party to show her up. As it turns out, without intending, she not only steals the show with her stunning beauty, it becomes clear from an overheard conversation that she is Dickie’s intended lead for the play. Mary is furious, and after so thoroughly offending the girl and her father that they leave, she has it out with Dickie in her bedroom, between the cutting of the cake and the presents. He leaves in a rush, the guests waiting for Mary to open their gifts. Finally the dresser goes up and finds her in the throes of death. By the time the somewhat inebriated family doctor who is at the party makes his way to the bedroom, she is dead.

It’s a case of poisoning with the insecticide she was so fond of using. But was it an accident, suicide, or murder? At this point, Fox, followed by Alleyn make their entrance, quickly narrowing the possibility to murder. Dickie is the obvious suspect but Alleyn takes his time–he’s not so sure. To complicate it all, it seems everyone is withholding the truth of what went on in Mary’s house on that fated birthday.

Marsh’s seems at the height of her powers in this one. At one time or another you believe almost all those in the house could have done it. And the one who did…I didn’t see that one coming. As in so many of her stories, she focuses around a theatrical company, reflecting her own theatrical background. As in others, there is an acted civility under which there are jealousies, plottings, resentments, and rivalries. Once again, she comes up with a gruesome instrument of murder (although I found myself muttering “get rid of that d**ned Slaypest”). This is one case where Alleyn solves the crime but the murderer eludes capture.

One thought on “Review: False Scent

  1. Pingback: The Month in Reviews: April 2023 | Bob on Books

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.