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April 2019: History > Night at the Vulcan - Ngaio Marsh - 4 Stars

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message 1: by Jemima (new)

Jemima Ravenclaw (jemimaravenclaw) | 405 comments Night at the Vulcan (Roderick Alleyn #16) Night at the Vulcan by Ngaio Marsh

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I thoroughly enjoyed reading my fourth Ngaio Marsh Detective Alleyn Series installment. I have been reading in publication order from 'Dyed in the Wool' with the Detective Group this year, and plan to read the earlier books in order at a later date.

This book focuses on characters participating in the rehearsing and production of a premiere play at the 'Vulcan Theatre'. We are first introduced to the main character, through whose eye's all of the other characters, scenery and plot revelations are revealed. Martyne Tarne is an out of work young actress, far from her native New Zealand shores, who is in a precarious position with no money, no food and no shelter in an unfamiliar city of post war London in the early 1950s. She finds a temporary shelter within the foyer of the Vulcan Theatre, where she overhears that the leading actress has lost her long term dresser just before the opening night of a new production. It is not the work she is looking for, but any will do and she grabs the opportunity to offer her services, despite lack of references or experience for that position. The manager is desperate enough to not inquire too closely into her credentials, and so Martyne is accepted as part of the backstage crew, in charge of costumes, dressing and provision of comfort to her new leading lady employer, Helena Hamilton.

There are a number of other significant characters involved in this mystery story. The Theatre owner, famous actor Adam Poole, who is conducting a long term affair with Helena, Helena's unhappy alcoholic husband, Clark Bennington, Gay Gainsford, the unhappy and out of her depth niece of Bennington, Jacko, the kind and amusing set designer and self appointed 'jack of all trades' and 'confidante to all', who is in love with Helena, the playwright, acerbic Dr John Rutherford, who hates both Gay and Bennington in their parts in his play, J.G. Darcey, a older character actor who admires and champions Gay, and Parry Percival, another cast actor who is treated disgustingly by both Bennington and Dr Rutherford for his gay preferences.

With the play requiring an actor who is able to play the part of Poole's younger relative, the entrance of Martyne, an actor talented enough to play Gay's serious part far more convincingly than the comedic pantomime actress can do, the cat is released amongst the pigeons. Gay is already breaking down from a combination of the pressure her uncle is putting on her to succeed, the open jibes of Dr Rutherford and the strong consciousness that the part is beyond her. Not only is young Martyne a more talented actor, but she also has and mysteriously uncanny resemblance to Alan Poole. Add to this a developing attraction between Martyne and Alan and the pressures of an opening night and the scene is fitly set for a complex murder where any number of the characters are suspect and dripping with motives.

Ngaio Marsh has brought all of her considerable talent and experience of both mystery writing and theatre knowledge to this well plotted murder mystery and the denouement will not disappoint. The pacing is good and the characters, setting and atmosphere well fleshed out and enticing to a reader of cozy mystery stories.




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message 2: by ShazM (new)

ShazM | 379 comments I really like Ngaio Marsh but this wasn't one of my favourites. I found it quite hard to like any of the characters, most of them seemed thoroughly unpleasant.


message 3: by Jemima (new)

Jemima Ravenclaw (jemimaravenclaw) | 405 comments I agree with you about the characters. None of them won my complete sympathy although I didn’t Dislike all of them. It was a great well paced mystery and I loved the theater as the central character so to speak.


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