|Death at the Bar / Ngaio Marsh|
London: Fontana, 1982, c1940.
The plot here is quite ingenious -- impossible for a reader to figure out, though, until told the details, and the characters are just not quite as engaging or believable. Plus the romantic triangle subplot is far too retrograde for my comfort.
The plot is as follows: a group of guests are staying in a small hotel in a coastal town that it is difficult to get to; there is really only one way in or out. One evening there is some drinking and then a game of darts ensues (aside: are darts the best game of choice in a drinking establishment?). One of the men, a lawyer, is hit with a dart and scratched, but suddenly dies. It's discovered that the tip of the dart has been poisoned. But by whom, and how, and why? The mystery is a tangle and nearly everyone seems a likely murderer, from cousin to pretty girl to old lady to random male guest. It's impossible to make out, from the reader's perspective.
Some of subplots continue quite misleadingly -- there are suspicious actions by all, whether because of romantic entanglements or shady connections with townspeople. There are the requisite red herrings and old women to meddle in the investigation.
While the mystery is nice and tangly, and the setting itself is pretty great, I found the narrative a bit plodding and the characters unappealing. The motives and alibis are all fairly weak, and the detailed exposition just went on and on!
When the 'who dunnit' was finally revealed, I wasn't all that interested anymore. The punny title, since the death takes place in the bar of the hotel, and it is a laywer who died, is about the most obvious part of it all. Perhaps I'd like another Roderick Alleyn mystery better than this one -- although it is a 1940 story it is missing the spark of lightness found in many other stories of the era. If you've read and enjoyed any title in this series, let me know which one I should attempt next to change my mind about this detective and his complicated cases.