Can anyone think of a modern novel in which the chief character is a sexually repressed, malignant, middle aged spinster? Did they become an extinct species in 1963? Such women, often cruelly portrayed, were rife in pre-war novels and Overture to Death boasts two of them.
I wanted to read this again after mentioning it in my Flavia de Luce post. Although she’s not as good as Margery Allingham, I do enjoy Ngaio Marsh’s books, especially the earlier ones. Overture to Death was first published in 1939 and is one of those typically English murder stories people like so much. It’s set in a Dorset village complete with squire, doctor, parson and assorted yokels (the vernacular is pretty accurate). Squire’s son and parson’s daughter are in love but both fathers disapprove. They meet secretly (Your cigarette smells like heaven is a nice period touch). Their chief enemy is the squire’s spinster relative, who is in love with the exceptionally handsome parson, as is the other unmarried grande dame of the village. An amateur production to raise money for a new parish piano involves almost the whole village, feelings run high, death takes place on stage.
It’s one of my favourite Ngaio Marsh stories, partly because of the Dorset connection, and it’s always a pleasure to meet ‘handsome Alleyn’ again, as he solves the mystery.