Ngaio Marsh – Final Curtain (1947)

There is a slight problem now for me with the Wiki
reviews in that Nick Fuller’s entry here is wonderfully succinct
and precise in terms of the book’s plot and atmosphere;
it would be redundant (and impossible) to try and
duplicate this (see

 On the other hand there are a couple
of points – one I wanted to expand and a more general
difference in reaction. So the following are a commentary
on Nick Fuller’s review.

Final Curtain is a WW2 book. Although not published
during the war (1947) nor even set in the War (the setting
is immediately post-war), war-time events hang heavily over the
book. It may be usefully compared to Allingham’s Coroner’s
and possibly More Work for The Undertaker. The former
is most relevant however. In both cases the writer’s protagonists
are returning from long absences from their wives – Campion
has been doing ‘secret’ work in Europe (of which we never learn
any details) while Alleyn has been seconded to New Zealand –
the subject of Colour Scheme and Died in the Wool. There
the similarity ends – in Coroner’s Pidgin Amanda is an off-screen
presence, where in Final Curtain Troy is a central character. And
her dilemma must have been one faced by many women at the time –
how would her relationship with Alleyn be affected by this 3 year
(3 years, 7 months and 24 days as Alleyn accurately notes) separation.
Marsh wants to go beyond the merely conventional here and it
is fascinating that she chooses to do so by using Troy who
has been a pretty marginal figure up to now (with the exception
of course of Artists in Crime). Nick Fuller makes the excellent point
that here Marsh emerges from Sayers’s shadow – or perhaps
Troy from Harriet Vane’s? My own reaction is that she succeeds
admirably in conveying the mixture of anticipation and fear which
must exist in this situation ; this despite the fact that the sexual and
physical side of this has to be conveyed in the most nuanced manner..
“a smile of extraordinary intimacy broke across her face”.
Marsh seems however to also be preparing the ground for a new
departure in the series where Troy would become a more central
character: so Alleyn’s rule that his home and work lives should be
rigidly separated is laid to rest by Troy. However this was not, as
far as I can recall, followed through very much – other than in the
delightful Clutch of Constables. Perhaps she was just leaving her
options open.

Despite my admiration for Marsh’s portrayal of Troy and Alleyn and
their relationship and the whole ‘resumption of normal life’ feel
of the book, and my admiration for the cast of characters and the
plotting, I still do not share Nick  Fuller’s admiration for this book. I have
been trying on this re-re-read to analyse why and have concluded
that it is largely to do with the second murder. And I do not mean
the murder of the cat (although I have met – in cyber-space – people
who regard cat murder as the most vile atrocity; they will happily
read of bizarre serial killers but refuse anything which involves a cat –
and I was very sorry for the cat!). No I mean the second human murder.
This seems to me to be quite unnecessary and very rushed (it occurs
right at the end of the book). But beyond that I get the feeling that
Marsh is just disposing of a character she does not like. My own
sympathies within the book are very different. Interestingly in the
TV adaptation (I do not intend to open another adaptation debate
but will say that I think that the TV adaptations are better than
they are usually credited to be) this second murder was, as far
as I can recall, omitted. All that this demonstrates, I suppose,
is that my reaction to a book can be adversely affected by
an emotional response – highly uncritical! But it remains an
excellent Marsh even if not as high on my personal list
as on Nick Fuller’s

(May 2007)