Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Mount TBR 2018, The Classic Club

Off With His Head – Ngaio Marsh

Classic
2*s

Well before I picked this book as one of my Classics Club Reads, I noted that I did so because although she’s widely acclaimed, she is not an author I’ve actually read which is shocking considering that I consider myself quite widely read in this genre having been a fan since discovering Maigret and Agatha Christie in my childhood. I have to confess on the whole I found this a difficult read which I will attempt to explain.

The setting of the early scene was really well done when we met Mrs Bunz a German woman with an academic interest in folklore visiting the village of South Mardian in order to witness the “Dance of the Five Sons,” a mixture between a mummers play and a sword dance which has been performed in the village for generations at the time of the winter solstice. Fortunately for the time when we met the performers there were five sons all alive to accompany their father, even older, to give the villagers a show. Sadly the snow has kept the audience to a minimum, but no matter, Mrs Bunz is determined to document a rare example of an ancient tradition.

After lots, and lots, and lots, of build-up, through rehearsals and arguments, the dance is performed only for the father to be found with his head cut off at the finale. Shocking stuff indeed!

The villagers on the whole are a strange bunch, characterised by low education and an odd dialect. In short the five sons are portrayed as buffoons, particularly the youngest who has epilepsy causing the other four to endlessly chorus soothing noises whenever he gets agitated. Their father is the blacksmith, William Anderson, known to all as the “Guiser,” an unpleasant fellow who is prone to shouting and who cut off his daughter when she chose to marry someone from a different class to them. I know that this was written in a different time when attitudes were very different, but I found it distasteful because the family were at the heart of the action and even by the end we knew little more about them.

So I already had a problem with the ordinary folk but when you combine that with the way the wealthy of the village both acted and were deferred to by everyone, including our esteemed detective Inspector Roderick Alleyn who was bought in when the local bobbies were unable to decide who, out of the entire village (as they all had a motive for murder) had committed the act. With everyone loudly telling each other to keep quiet or disappearing because they don’t like visitors my main source of tension was created by the very real sense that Inspector Alleyn would don his wellington boots and leave without solving the crime because he seemed a little reluctant to ask the questions that seemed blindingly obvious. Consequently by the time we had the reveal, and the solution to a few more of the little mysteries that had occurred, I’d either worked it out for myself, or I was pretty much past caring.

For all that, I did like the parallels with King Lear, the murder itself was well plotted and the isolation of such a village in winter is one I could easily imagine. Sadly I wasn’t anywhere near as fond of the class obsession the writer enforced on her readers.

Off With His Head is number 30 on The Classics Club challenge list and the sixth of my fifty choices that I’ve read and reviewed.

 

First Published UK: 1957
Publisher: HarperCollins
No of Pages: 288
Genre: Classic Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Weekly Posts

First Chapter ~ First Paragraph (May 29)

Welcome to another Tuesday celebrating bookish events, from Tuesday/First Chapter/Intros, hosted by Vicky from I’d Rather Be At The Beach who posts the opening paragraph (sometime two) of a book she decided to read based on the opening. Feel free to grab the banner and play along.

This week I’m sharing the opening paragraph of Off With His Head by Ngaio Marsh which is one of my reads from The Classics Club. I’m slightly (very) ashamed to say that although I consider myself a crime fiction lover, I’ve not read any of this authors 32 novels.

Blurb

Pagan revelry and morris dancing in the middle of a very cold winter set the scene for one of Ngaio Marsh’s most fascinating murder mysteries.

When the pesky Anna Bünz arrives at Mardian to investigate the rare survival of folk-dancing still practised there, she quickly antagonizes the villagers. But Mrs Bünz is not the only source of friction – two of the other enthusiasts are also spoiling for a fight.

When the sword dancers’ traditional mock beheading of the Winter Solstice becomes horribly real, Superintendent Roderick Alleyn finds himself faced with a case of great complexity and of gruesome proportions… Amazon

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

First Chapter ~ First Paragraph ~ Intro

Chapter One

WINTER SOLSTICE

Over that part of England the Winter Solstice came down with a bitter antiphony of snow and frost. Trees minutely articulate, shuddered in the north wind. By four o’clock in the afternoon the people of South Mardian were all indoors.
It was at four o’clock that a small dogged-looking car appeared on a rise above the village and began to sidle and curvet down the frozen lane. Its driver, her vision distracted by wisps of grey hair escaping from a headscarf, peered through the fan-shaped clearing on her windscreen. Her woolly paws clutched rather than commanded the wheel. She wore in addition to several scarves of immense length, a handspun cloak. Her booted feet tramped about over the brake and clutch-pedal, her lips moved soundlessly and from time to time twitched into conciliatory smiles. Thus she arrived in South Mardian and bumped to a standstill before a pair of gigantic gates.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Well I gave you slightly more than I usually type out for this post but I was enjoying it so much! Love those descriptions the short ones about the weather that say so much and then the easily imagined image of whoever it is that is driving that car, I’m just glad that everyone else is safely tucked up at home!

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Posted in Weekly Posts

Friday Finds (August 29)

Friday Finds Hosted by Should be Reading

FRIDAY FINDS showcases the books you ‘found’ and added to your To Be Read (TBR) list… whether you found them online, or in a bookstore, or in the library — wherever! (they aren’t necessarily books you purchased).

So, come on — share with us your FRIDAY FINDS

This week all my finds are real, physical books!

First up I saw a wonderful review of The Ruffian on the Stair by Nina Bawden on Heavenali’s blog and bought myself a copy. I was a huge Nina Bawden fan as a child and read The Peppermint Pig and Carrie’s War so many times.

ruffian-on-the-stair

Blurb

In six days Silas Mudd will be one hundred years old and is alarmingly healthy – more than can be said of his son. `Not sure he’ll make old bones’ he confides loudly to his daughter-in-law. Grumpily flattered by the fuss over his impending party – even from his irritating family, Silas’ greater pleasure is `to go over his life’ and the women whom he loved and who made trouble for him: his sterling and capable Aunt; his wonderfully vulgar second wife Bella; Molly, a music-hall singing sister; and Effie, his first and hopeless wife. Silas is the only one left who knows exactly what is shoring up his family. And now he sits, waiting and thinking, just wondering what it would be like if he were to say …Amazon

To get a better sense of this book please read Heavenali’s review
I was lucky enough to win a fantastic prize of two books by Kevin Sampson; The Killing Pool and The House on the Hill from Shaz’s Book Blog, thank you Sharon!

The Killing Pool

Blurb

Detective Chief Inspector Billy McCartney discovers a headless corpse in the scrubland close to Liverpool docks. The slaying carries all the hallmarks of a gangland hit – a message from the underworld to snitches, cops and rival gangs.
One mile away, a girl staggers into a run-down bar, dazed and confused. The bar’s owner, a career criminal called Shakespeare, cannot get a word out of her.
DCI McCartney is all too well aware that the clock is ticking. The body was one Kalan Rozaki, youngest brother of a notorious crime family – except Kalan is no criminal. For almost a year his brothers have been under full-time Drug Squad surveillance as McCartney slowly closed the net on their heroin trafficking. McCartney’s chief informant on the case is someone with insider knowledge of the Rozaki clan’s operation…their newly deceased baby brother, Kalan.
McCartney’s investigation into Kalan’s murder peels back layer after layer of a decades-long dynasty of drug smuggling. Each revelation plunges McCartney back into the dark heart of an unsolved drug crime that weighs heavy on his soul. He wants to catch the Rozakis – badly – but he wants the shadowy men behind their drug empire even more. The closer McCartney gets to Kalan’s killer, the closer he comes to facing down a lifetime’s torment. Amazon

The House on the Hill

Blurb

DCI Billy McCartney has gone to ground, disillusioned with his job. When a runaway turns up on his doorstep, her story plunges Mac back to the summer of 1990, and one of his most traumatic cases.
McCartney and his partner DS Millie Baker are in Ibiza, on a joint venture with the Spanish serious crime agency. Their objective: to infiltrate the Liverpool-based drug gang responsible for a wave of ecstasy-related deaths. But their stakeout takes both Mac and Millie to the heart of a dark empire whose tentacles stretch from Ireland to Morocco, and whose activities include industrial-scale drug production – and terrorism. They’re close to their big bust when Millie is abducted by the gang, and killed. McCartney never quite recovers from it.
The waif who knocks on Mac’s door twenty-four years later has escaped from those same captors; a dynasty of international dope dealers based high in the Moroccan Rif. What she tells McCartney blasts his apathy away, and sends him on a mission that goes far beyond law and order. This is his chance for redemption. Amazon

I am an ardent follow of Margot Kinberg’s wonderful blog Confessions of a Mystery Novelist Margot is an expert on all crime fiction, her ingenious posts made me certain that it was time to read a Ngaio Marsh novel so I have a copy of Off With His Head.

Off With His Head

Blurb

Pagan revelry and morris dancing in the middle of a very cold winter set the scene for one of Ngaio Marsh’s most fascinating murder mysteries.
When the pesky Anna Bünz arrives at Mardian to investigate the rare survival of folk-dancing still practised there, she quickly antagonizes the villagers. But Mrs Bünz is not the only source of friction – two of the other enthusiasts are also spoiling for a fight.
When the sword dancers’ traditional mock beheading of the Winter Solstice becomes horribly real, Superintendent Roderick Alleyn finds himself faced with a case of great complexity and of gruesome proportions… Amazon

Fiction Fan suggested a book to me following on from my review of Your Beautiful Lies which deals with the after effects of the miner’s strike. I wouldn’t normally be so easily led astray but the book in question is by one of my favourite authors; Reginald Hill. So I now own a copy of Under World the tenth novel in the wonderful Dalziel and Pascoe series.

Under World

Blurb

When young Tracey Pedley vanished in the woods around Burrthorpe, the close-knit community had their own ideas about what had happened, but Deputy Chief Constable Watmough has it down as the work of a child-killer who has since committed suicide – though others wondered about the last man to see her alive and his fatal plunge into the disused mine shaft.
Returning to a town he left in anger, Colin Farr’s homecoming is ready for trouble, and when a university course brings him into contact with Ellie Pascoe, trouble starts…
Meanwhile Andy Daziel mutters imprecations on the sidelines, until a murder in Burrthorpe mine forces him to take action that brings him up against a hostile and frightened community… Amazon

Please share your finds with me, there is always room on the TBR to squeeze just one more book in!