Book Review: Death at the Bar by Ngaio Marsh

deathatthebarSetting in for a cozy night of brandy and darts at the pub, an inebriated lawyer suffers a seemingly harmless dart puncture. But within moments of his injury, the unlucky barrister loses more than a simple game of darts–he loses his life. Called in to investigate this alleged accident, Inspector Roderick Alleyn wonders about the rules of this friendly bar game–and probes into a pub full of motives for murder

My Rating:

I have a feeling that I’ve read this book before, but remembered little enough of what went on to find the re-read worth while.

The main protagonists are a group of friends from London, who often spend their holidays in the village: Luke Watchman, an eminent lawyer, Sebastian Parish, celebrated actor, and Norman Cubitt, painter, who is painting a portrait of Parish in the countryside near the village.

Since their holiday a year before, a new character has appeared on the scene: Robert (Bob) Legge, a secretive character with an interesting trick with darts. On the second night of the holiday, and after a decent amount of alcohol all round, Watchman lies dead on the pub floor, having died from cyanide poisoning, apparently injected via a dart wielded by Legge.

Through various technicalities, Alleyn and Fox end up travelling down to Devon to investigate. Fingers are pointed almost instantly at Legge, who is proving to be rather erratic in his behaviour, in no small part due to the 6 year sentence previously given as a result of Watchman’s work at the bar. However, Fox and Alleyn find that everyone in the room at the time of the death has a motive for seeing the barrister dead. It all boils down to who could have got the cyanide into the Watchman’s system. It’s then up to Alleyn and Fox to prove precisely who killed Watchman, even when it means a risk to life and limb for the two policemen.

This is number 9 in the Alleyn series, and Marsh is on a roll. Ever so slightly racist (looking back with 20:20 hindsight about someone “visiting the Jews” – i.e. the moneylenders) but generally working class vs upper class struggles. There are plenty of over the top characters, including the local barman, the fat Irish painter, the actor etc. Some nice small touches in the relationship between Alleyn and Fox helps lighten the mood a little. Not one of the best Alleyn stories, and not one of the worst, so a middle ranking rating.


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