Reviews for Death and the Dancing Footman, by Ngaio Marsh
- Strong character development? N/A
- Loveable characters? N/A
- Diverse cast of characters? No
- Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes
jinxy's review against another edition
I tried and failed to finish a number of Ngaio Marsh's books - this is the first I've successfully completed. This may have been due to the fact I listened to it on audio, narrated by James Saxon. Not sure she is the author me me when it comes to mysteries, but I'm glad I've finally finished one of her books.
Originally published on my blog here in June 1998.
Another traditional crime novel, written during a period in which it is clear that Marsh was slipping more and more into re-using the formulaic plot ideas of the genre. Death and the Dancing Footman is from the snowbound-upper-class-houseparty subgenre; the houseparty is gathered by its host, who wants to bring together seven people who have good reason to kill each other (two brothers, lifelong rivals, and the girl who has jilted one for the other; their mother, whose face was ruined by an experimenting plastic surgeon; the plastic surgeon in question; his secret wife, who runs a beauty parlour and is having an affair with one of the brothers; and a rival beauty parlour owner). He has also invited Aubrey Mandrake, famous dramatist, whose shameful secret he has uncovered (he was originally named Stanley Footling), to act as an impartial observer of this grotesque "experiment in psychology".
Naturally, things go wrong; a series of dangerous practical jokes ends up with a death. The characters then have to live with each other for several days before the snow thaws and they can call in Inspector Alleyn to solve the mystery. (He naturally happens to be staying at a house nearer than the next town, from which the houseparty is still cut off for the time being.) The problem is that the murder appears impossible; the man accused of the practical jokes was in his room having taken sleeping tablets, and the rest of the household has an alibi provided by one of the servants, who stood outside the door dancing by himself to the music coming from the radio. (This is an activity I would have thought would lead Alleyn to arrest him immediately as a dangerous lunatic.)
Marsh writes well enough; she could obviously churn out novels within the genre with no trouble. Her best work is not completely contrained by the conventions of the form, but this novel is not really her best work.
It sounds like the party from hell -- and it is. Bored rich dude decides to hold a house party with a carefully assembled cast of people who have reasons to hate each other. Then they're all shut in by a snowstorm. Is it any wonder someone gets killed? Marsh's country-house mysteries can get slow when Roderick Alleyn isn't on the scene, but in this one she gives us a young playwright, Aubrey Mandrake, as a stand-in. There are two romances as well, one of them predictable, the other completely silly. However, the footman actually does dance.
Just arrived from USA. Madame Marsh has an unique style of writing suspense stories.
I don't think this is Marsh's strongest work, but she really does have a gift of creating interesting secondary characters. All of the house guests were interesting to me, with their various neuroses and issues.
Liked the story, eventually, but not a great narrator on the audio book (very bad with accents). Interesting way of creating the story, and good characters.
"Well," said Alleyn, "we might do that. I suppose I haven't gone wrong anywhere. The thing's so blasted obvious I keep wondering if there's a catch in it."
Not the most fiendish of mysteries, but I found this Marsh very enjoyable, mostly because of the presence of Aubrey Mandrake / Stanley Footling.