Enter a Murderer by Ngaio Marsh: C-

From the back cover:
The crime was committed on stage at the Unicorn Theatre, when an unloaded gun fired a very real bullet. The victim was Arthur Surbanadier, an actor clawing his way to stardom using blackmail victims. The stage was set for one of Chief Detective Inspector Alleyn’s most baffling cases…

I think I need a new rating for laughably bad. I simply must quote the bit that literally made me crack up. It doesn’t reveal the identities of the speakers, but you should stop reading now if you’re concerned about spoilers.

She took a step towards him, looked into his eyes, and smiled. In a moment he had her close-held in his arms. “What’s this?” he said roughly. “I know you’re everything I most deplore—and yet—look at this. Shall I kiss you?”
“Why not?”
“Every reason why not.”
“How strangely you look at me. As if you were examining my face inch by inch.”
He released her suddenly. “Please go,” he said.

Bwahaha. It still amuses me.

The mystery itself is neither particularly bad nor particularly good. I could’ve done with less of Nigel Bathgate’s angst about an old acquaintance’s involvement and his propensity to interrupt and/or overhear suspicious conversations. After a time, it seems no new evidence is gathered and it’s just a lot of histrionics. The conclusion is a little unsatisfying, as well, and I wonder if an aspect of the solution really agrees with what had been established early on, but I don’t care enough to go back and verify.

The main flaw is unchanged from the first book to feature Inspector Alleyn—I just can’t get a handle on his personality. Is he truly breezy, flip, uncaring, rather unprofessional, and capricious? At times, his actions bely these impressions and I just have no idea which is right. Is he supposed to be a mysterious and unpredictable person, or is this just bad writing?

The question of whether to continue the series might appear to be a no-brainer, except that I keep reading that the later stories are an improvement. The library has all but two (many unabridged and narrated by James Saxon, who was excellent here despite the material, and whose voice reminds me of Vivian Stanshall), so I suppose I might as well. Besides, it’s kind of fun to award a lousy grade every now and then.

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