by Ngaio Marsh
Series: Inspector Alleyn #12
Publication Date: January 1, 1943
Project: golden age mystery, inspector alleyn files
A spa-goer resorts to murder.
Even down in New Zealand, war-fueled spy fever is running wild. Near the decaying sulphur springs of Colonel and Mrs. Claire, the strange lights and signals being sent to foreign ships at sea mean there's a spy in their midst. Soon an even darker sign appears--a health-seeker with untoward intentions meets his demise in the mud baths. And when a new arrival appears, one who possesses the cunning of a criminal and the insight of a psychologist, can Scotland Yard's Inspector Roderick Alleyn be far behind?
I don’t think that this one is going to end up as a favorite, although it was an entertaining read.
It’s set in New Zealand, while Inspector Alleyn is overseas during the war, so there’s no Troy to be found. The main plot occurs in a boarding house/thermal spa, run by the Claire family – Colonel Claire and his wife are retired Anglo-Indians with a bit of a superiority complex, which creates problems for their daughter, Barbara and son, Simon. Mrs. Claire’s brother, Dr. Acrington, also lives at the spa and is a hoot. He and Barbara were probably my favorite characters.
There are various guests and staff at the spa, including Maurice Questing, who is a suspected spy and all around loathsome hanger-on. Questing is reviled by pretty much everyone, and seems to have some unexplained hold over Colonel Claire which he is using to manipulate the Claires. A well-known Shakespearean actor, Geoffrey Gaunt, shows up with his secretary, Dikon Bell, and valet, which creates more tension, as Gaunt, Dikon Bell and Questing all vie for the attentions of the increasingly lovely Barbara.
The characterizations in this one are really interesting, but the mystery itself is meh. I also absolutely dispute that the clues were sufficient for anyone to figure out the solution to the murder, which occurs very late in the book. The other quirk of the book I figured out immediately.