Scales of Justice

Scales of Justice

by Ngaio Marsh

Suddenly, the playground of British blue bloods has been soiled by murder and the lowest sort of intrigue.

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That is until Sir Harold Lacklander asks gives his old friend Colonel Cartarette his memoirs to publish. A few days after Sir Harold's death, the Colonel is found murdered in a very nasty way while fishing for trout in his own stretch of stream. Now he consoles himself by being surrounded by cats and kittens and trying to poach a very large trout from Colonel Cartarette's neighbouring stretch of stream.

Description: The quiet village of Swevenings seemed an English pastoral paradise, until the savagely beaten body of Colonel Cartarette was found near a tranquil stream.

Oh, and the story is good, too.

This, the eighteenth, in the Roderick Alleyn series, was published in 1955 and is set in a changing world. These families are viewed from the complacent snobbery of local, Nurse Kettle, who travels around, seeing everything, knowing everyone and, later in the book, causing Fox some romantic interest for the first time in the series.

Yeah, that's a big fish--for England.

"Smoke rose in cosy plumes from one or two chimneys; roofs cuddled into surrounding greenery...Nurse Kettle thought with satisfaction, 'It is pretty as a picture.'" This view of the village will quickly be brought to rights with sharp exchanges from the various inhabitants who bicker over cats, arrows and most of all the big old trout that escapes capture through the years. The leading family knows people, so of course Lady Lacklander is a friend of Alleyn's mother and calls Scotland Yard to demand Alleyn come solve the murder. The action kicks off with the dying husband of Lady Lacklander breathing his last instructions to his neighbor to ensure that the truth will be told in his published memoirs - a hidden secret that will harm his family's reputation. 'I don't want to loom any more than I can help, you know, but you can't expect me to be all smiles and prattle when you, as a group, close your ranks with such a deafening clank whenever I approach you.'" A great deal of mumbling went on in a family gathering until Alleyn had to give it up since the Lady was not granting anyone permission to speak frankly.

Many, many, many, many years ago, when I was a little boy in Scotland, the family went on holiday to somewhere Really Glamorous and Thrilling, like Tomintoul. There wasn't much to do in Tomintoul at the best of times except admire the gravestones in the cemetery, but there was even less to do when it was bucketing with rain. I'd by this time probably encountered crime fiction before, in the form of Enid Blyton's Famous Five and Secret Seven books, but that was about it. Years later, when I must have been in my late teens or early twenties, I read it a second time and enjoyed it all over again. Called in, Roderick Alleyn and Br'er Fox soon elicit that this may well have had something to do with the fact that, on his deathbed, Sir Harold Lacklander, the blue-bloodedest of the local bluebloods, requested that Cartarette take charge of editing his memoirs for publication, and that those memoirs blow wide open a long-held guilty secret. Of course, for fear of Scandal, everyone's stupidly unwilling to tell Alleyn what that secret is -- must be the inbreeding, I guess. We married and came here and he started writing some god-awful book and Rose and he sat in each other's pockets and the county called.

1. The classic murder mystery - small English village, upper crust suspects, buried secrets , a femme fatale, a couple of young lovers, and a humorous district nurse. 2. Women and bad relationships: (view spoiler) Marsh spends a lot of time on this story as well - in fact, the murder does not make any sense without this reading. She will never be accepted in this closed society, and Marsh makes it clear that her loneliness and sense of rejection is the true motive for the murder. Marsh also gives us clues that all is not well in the love affair between ingenue Rose and assertive Dr. Mark. Marsh makes it clear what Rose's future with Mark will be: "Sometimes there exists in people who are attracted to each other a kind of ratio between the degree of attraction and the potential for irritation. At the end of the book, he promises that he loves her and will always "watch over her." This is couched as a happy ending, but Marsh has given us too many clues that tell us otherwise. When Nurse Kettle makes it clear that his drinking is unacceptable, Commander Syce shows his love by giving it up. Will you?" Nurse Kettle assured him that she would.' Instead of ending the book with the stereotypical young love, Marsh ends it with this "unlikely pair," who break class barriers and expectations, and give an example of a mature relationship.

The murder itself is, for Marsh, excessively grisly although one only learns of that in dribs and drabs.

The character work is solid.

Marsh's first novel, A MAN LAY DEAD (1934), which she wrote in London in 1931-32, introduced the detective Inspector Roderick Alleyn: a combination of Sayers's Lord Peter Wimsey and a realistically depicted police official at work. Throughout the 1930s Marsh painted occasionally, wrote plays for local repertory societies in New Zealand, and published detective novels. All her novels feature British CID detective Roderick Alleyn.