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Overture to Death (Roderick Alleyn #8)
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Ngaio Marsh Buddy Reads > Overture to Death - SPOILER Thread

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Susan | 10020 comments Mod
Published in 1939, this is the eighth Roderick Alleyn novel, and our August challenge title.

A classic Ngaio Marsh novel in which she more than lives up to her reputation as a crime writer of intelligence and style.

It was planned as an act of charity: a new piano for the parish hall, an amusing play to finance the gift.

But its execution was doomed when Miss Campanula sat down to play. A chord was struck, a shot rang out and Miss Campanula was dead.

A case of sinister infatuation for the brilliant Chief Detective-Inspector Alleyn.

Please feel free to post spoilers in this thread.


Susan | 10020 comments Mod
What did we think of all the repressive, sexual emotion in this novel?


Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8940 comments Mod
I thought it was a pity there was so much stereotyping of repressed, frustrated spinsters - this has also cropped up in other authors but is a particularly strong element here. However, sexy woman Mrs Ross isn’t very positively portrayed either!


Susan | 10020 comments Mod
No, female characters were not well represented in this book, to be honest...


Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8940 comments Mod
I was also slightly disconcerted by Mrs Ross being described as "straw-coloured" - couldn't really picture this. It seemed to refer to her skin rather than her hair, so I wondered if this meant she looked "foreign", especially when it turns out that her real surname is Rosen.


Rosina (rosinarowantree) | 758 comments Judy wrote: "I was also slightly disconcerted by Mrs Ross being described as "straw-coloured" - couldn't really picture this. It seemed to refer to her skin rather than her hair, so I wondered if this meant she..."

I think we can add racism to misogyny in her case.

And I find the young lovers excessively cloying.


Susan | 10020 comments Mod
All romance in GA novels seems to be a little over the top.


Rosina (rosinarowantree) | 758 comments Susan wrote: "All romance in GA novels seems to be a little over the top."

Not all. Heyer's detective stories have lovers that you can barely believe like each other, who change from banter to proposal to engagement in a couple of brief exchanges. Tommy and Tuppence, Campion and Amanda - none of them gush like Henry and Diana. I can see that it's meant to show the difference between 'innocent young love' and 'perverted older love' but it still cloys.


Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8940 comments Mod
I wasn't too bothered by Henry and Diana, but I didn't exactly warm to them and thought they could both be a little self-righteous at times.

As well as the young lovers, I thought the long love letter that Alleyn writes to Troy in this book is a bit too much - although I am someone who usually enjoys the romantic element!

I did notice that both Alleyn and Troy have frequently-mentioned "long hands" - it must be a feature that Marsh found attractive.


message 10: by Jill (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jill (dogbotsmum) | 2062 comments I don't think Marsh treated the men very well. She seems to think that a man will forgive a woman anything if she has what they called sex appeal . The Squire, Dr Template and Bathgate, all seemed to be captivated by Mrs Ross.


Rosina (rosinarowantree) | 758 comments It is something that I have noticed on this Marsh re-read. Her characters aren't people you can warm to. Compared with Heyer (I like Heyer!) she seems to treat them unkindly, guilty and innocent alike. Heyer will have the same character types, but a much less bitter portrayal.

It's as if the mantle of Miss Prentice had fallen on Ms Marsh's shoulders.


message 12: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8940 comments Mod
Rosina wrote: "It is something that I have noticed on this Marsh re-read. Her characters aren't people you can warm to. Compared with Heyer (I like Heyer!) she seems to treat them unkindly, guilty and innocent al..."

Interesting, Rosina. I think that's true in this book and probably some of the others, but not in the previous book, Death in a White Tie, where I did really warm to some of the characters - just struck me that is probably one of the reasons that one was my favourite so far in the series.


message 13: by Sandy (last edited Aug 01, 2018 06:08AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sandy | 2788 comments Mod
I really liked this book with its cast of characters, though I agree that none were completely loveable. I have hopes for the future Henry Jernigham however. With his interest in The Yard and Alleyn's vision of friendly visits to the rectory I'm expecting Henry to reappear.

I also found the romance between Henry and Dinah much too cloying and it wasn't helped that there was no build up to it. Old friends meet in the woods and love breaks out. (Actually Alleyn fell for Troy in much the same manner.) Rosina, I agree Heyer does great romances. Her characters actually know each other.


Sandy | 2788 comments Mod
Judy, while I agree that the characters in White Tie were more sympathetic it cannot be my favorite because I was so upset when the victim died. I so hoped he would be a recurring character.


Sandy | 2788 comments Mod
Regarding the pervading theme of sexual repression I ignored that explanation as a theory of the time. I assumed that the two old biddies did not want to see anyone else happy combined with disapproval of romance outside of marriage.

I did not pick up on any hidden meaning with 'straw colored'. I just pictured a pale woman: blond hair and eyebrows with light skin.


message 16: by Jill (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jill (dogbotsmum) | 2062 comments Sandy wrote: "Regarding the pervading theme of sexual repression I ignored that explanation as a theory of the time. I assumed that the two old biddies did not want to see anyone else happy combined with disappr..."

I pictured the same as you. I tend to think of straw being a very light colour.


Rosina (rosinarowantree) | 758 comments The victim was about 50 - so born in 1890? This makes her, and Miss Prentice, rather on the old side to be women whose chance of marriage and fulfilment were lost on the battlefields of The Great War. So one can assume that they were never likely to have found a suitable match.


Susan | 10020 comments Mod
Odd really, as the victim was quite wealthy - but perhaps she inherited when she was too old to be considered a good catch?


Sandy | 2788 comments Mod
A suitable match would be even more unlikely given their personalities!


Susan | 10020 comments Mod
Ah, maybe they became bitter as they got older, Sandy. It's a hard life, in a small town, if nobody wants you. Especially when a woman's status was largely seen through her husband's.


message 21: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8940 comments Mod
Sandy wrote: "I did not pick up on any hidden meaning with 'straw colored'. I just pictured a pale woman: blond hair and eyebrows with light skin..."

You could well be right, Sandy and Jill - the odd phrase "a straw-coloured woman" had me baffled. If it had said "straw-coloured hair", that would have meant more to me.


Lesley | 384 comments When I came across "a straw-coloured woman" I took it to mean nondescript rather than referring to her actual colouring.


message 23: by Lesley (last edited Aug 03, 2018 11:35AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lesley | 384 comments Two annoyances in this book for me. The theme of sexual repression and the way women were seen; the over the top romance of Henry and Dinah.

I enjoyed the setting. I think Marsh does theatre well, obviously because she was in familiar surroundings. I also wonder if some of the spinsterish characters were known to her.

No change in opinion from my first reading of the book.


Tracey | 254 comments While I enjoyed the read, the sexually repressed spinisters with implied mental health problems grated on me.

One part that really made me chuckle was when Roper brought Gladys Wright in for questioning, by giving her a ride on the bar of his bike for seven miles. I can't imagine police officiers doing that now!


Rosina (rosinarowantree) | 758 comments I googled Twiddletoys, but they seem to be a modern plasticy thing for fidgety hands to fiddle with. I am assuming that Marsh did not want to implicate Meccano in the murder.


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Jill (dogbotsmum) | 2062 comments Yes , I immediately thought it must have been Meccanno, or something similar.


Susan | 10020 comments Mod
Roper did bring some humour to events, didn't he? I think he annoyed Alleyn more than Bathgate :)

What wonderful names so many of the characters had too. Jocelyn Journingham and Idris Campanula. Fantastic!


message 28: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8940 comments Mod
Yes, I enjoyed Roper too - loved the bit where he started reading out, word for word, his notes of his conversation with Gladys Wright, including all her jokes!


message 29: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8940 comments Mod
Lesley~aka Ella's Gran wrote: "When I came across "a straw-coloured woman" I took it to mean nondescript rather than referring to her actual colouring."

That's interesting, Lesley - could be, but then again she is so sexy and gorgeous. I'm still puzzled by it.


Tracey | 254 comments I'm still fond of Nigel, and liked how he was mentioned as 'Watson' under the cast list at the start of the book. By reading the novels each month, it highlights to me the passage of time between books, with Alleyn and Troy now preparing for a wedding, and Nigel and Angela becoming parents. I had hoped that Alleyn's mother would have been in the audience at the show, as I've enjoyed her appearances so far.


Susan | 10020 comments Mod
I am also fond of Nigel and it was nice to hear that Alleyn had a godson. I hope we see more of Alleyn's mother too.


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Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8940 comments Mod
Tracey wrote: " By reading the novels each month, it highlights to me the passage of time between books, with Alleyn and Troy now preparing for a wedding, and Nigel and Angela becoming parents ..."

That's true, Tracey - I also think the characters are still ageing in real time so far? That must stop after a while though, given how long Marsh continued writing this series!


Tracey | 254 comments I hadn't realised quite how late they were still being written. Wikipedia puts the last Alleyn book as 1982!


Susan | 10020 comments Mod
I wonder if they hit a high point? With Poirot, my real favourite period are the 1930's novels.


Sandy | 2788 comments Mod
1982!! I hope Marsh isn't as grumpy about 'modern' society as Christie.


Carol She's So Novel꧁꧂  | 606 comments I found this one more of a struggle to get through. I guessed the murderer quite easily. As others have mentioned the Miss C & Miss P's fixation on the Reverend was quite uncomfortable reading (although both ladies going to confession to take pot shots at each other appealed to my warped humour) & I found the build up quite slow.

What I did like was some of the dialogue. Some very amusing lines.

I haven't read this one before & I would be unlikely to read again.


Susan | 10020 comments Mod
It will be interesting to see how Marsh develops. By the 1960's Agatha was quite grumpy; although a lot of that was probably due to her personal unhappiness. I do hope Marsh is a bit more positive about things too, though :)


message 38: by Carol She's So Novel꧁꧂ (last edited Aug 09, 2018 05:28PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Carol She's So Novel꧁꧂  | 606 comments Susan wrote: "It will be interesting to see how Marsh develops. By the 1960's Agatha was quite grumpy; although a lot of that was probably due to her personal unhappiness. I do hope Marsh is a bit more positive ..."

For some reason I thought Marsh was born in the 20th century. They are surprisingly close in age. I've probably mentioned this before, but a b-i-l of mine many years ago had a bit part in a play Marsh directed. He described her as an absolutely lovely person.

Does anyone know how to pronounce Idris? I've never seen this name before.


Rosina (rosinarowantree) | 758 comments Eye dris I think. It's familiar to me because of the old advertising jingle from the 60s.

Idris lemonade

I drink Idris when I’s dri,
Idris is the drink to buy,
I drink Idris, I drink Idris,
Idris when I’s dri.


message 40: by Judy (last edited Aug 10, 2018 03:20AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8940 comments Mod
I don't remember that jingle, Rosina!

Actor Idris Elba's name is pronounced Id (rhymes with bid) - ris - however, I've just checked online and his name is short for Idrissa, so may not be all that relevant?

Editing to say I've just found that some sites say his name is pronounced "Ee-dris", confusing things still further! Sorry. :)


Susan | 10020 comments Mod
I suspect there is a difference in English and American pronounciation there. I would say Id-ris, I think. It is 'you say to-mato and I say, tom-ato,' isn't it? :)


Louise Culmer | 109 comments I didn't care much for this one. as with most of the Inspector Alleyn books, I thought it fairly obvious who the murderer was, though I kept hoping to the end that I would be wrong. ANd the portrayal of the two spinsters is so crude - I kept thinking how much better and more subtlety Agatha Christie would have done them. ANd then there's the rather boring sweet young lovers - you know of course that they are not going to be the murderers because they never are in Marsh's books, again Christie, quite ruthless, was quite capable of making one or both of the sweet young lovers the murderer.


Susan | 10020 comments Mod
I do think Christie was a little more ruthless, but I am enjoying the Marsh novels, as we move through the series. I have just started Death at the Bar


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Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8940 comments Mod
I’m enjoying the series a lot, but have to agree about the portrayal of the spinsters in this one being depressingly negative.


message 45: by Sandy (last edited Aug 19, 2018 06:19AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sandy | 2788 comments Mod
Louise wrote: "I didn't care much for this one. as with most of the Inspector Alleyn books, I thought it fairly obvious who the murderer was, though I kept hoping to the end that I would be wrong. ANd the portray..."

I also found the lovers insipid.


Susan | 10020 comments Mod
I find quite a lot of the love scenes in these early GA books a little wearing, to be honest, Sandy!


message 47: by Pamela (last edited Aug 20, 2018 06:27AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Pamela (bibliohound) | 363 comments I actually really enjoyed this one, including the spinsters and the lovers! Maybe I'm just in a more chilled mood than usual after my holiday.

I do agree that Marsh has a tendency to create stock characters - the bumbling squire, the femme fatale, the lovers etc. I think it may spring from her theatrical background as the book's characters all fitted so neatly into the characters in the play. However, sadly I did recognise traits of someone I used to know in Miss Prentice, albeit rather exaggerated.


Susan | 10020 comments Mod
Hope you had a great trip, Pamela. I recently went away too and am ready for September and normality now :)


Pamela (bibliohound) | 363 comments Susan wrote: "Hope you had a great trip, Pamela. I recently went away too and am ready for September and normality now :)"

Thanks Susan, it was a wonderful break but I'm quite enjoying the return to normality now too :)


message 50: by C.M. (new) - rated it 3 stars

C.M. Rosens | 11 comments Judy wrote: "I was also slightly disconcerted by Mrs Ross being described as "straw-coloured" - couldn't really picture this. It seemed to refer to her skin rather than her hair, so I wondered if this meant she..."

'Straw coloured' is a common way to refer to someone with pale blonde/sandy blonde hair in this sort of era I think, I've come across it before: https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dic...

It's a very pale yellow. So she's meant to be the classic Caucasian blonde bombshell but I guess it's meant to be "natural" than platinum bleached. It's common to refer to Caucasian women with dark hair (black or brown) and brown eyes as 'dark' at this time as well, without referring to skin colour, because white characters were thought to be 'normal'.

That just adds to the negative way she's portrayed: she's naturally this way, there's no 'excuses' for her behaviour, she is purely stereotypical, a variant on the femme fatale stock character.

The spinsters are so sexually repressed that it reads like a "dangers of spinsterhood" and a snide/tongue-in-cheek critique of the previous generation's sexual mores. I read it almost as a response to the critique levelled at the comparative sexual freedom of 1920s/30s women with their birth control pills and 'loose morals' - like, at least we're not turning into that...

I really enjoyed this one, but I found the spinsters a bit overdone... although the back-stabbing between them I did recognise in some older women of my grandparents' generation!! I think the lack of sorority in the novel got to me a bit. All the women are competitors, and none of them support one another. I think that's the tragedy of it, as well - - it's exactly that lack of any sense of real sisterhood that leads to murder.


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