There’s a lot of excitement here at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist… Today begins another thrilling and dangerous journey through the crime fiction alphabet. Once again I’m very much indebted to our tour guide Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise for putting this journey together.
My choice for today’s first stop – the letter A – is one of the more famous of Scotland Yard’s detectives, Ngaio Marsh’s Roderick Alleyn. Alleyn makes his debut in 1934’s A Man Lay Dead, in which he investigates the stabbing death of Charles Rankin. It all takes place at a house party hosted by Sir Hubert Handesley, who has arranged a “murder game” in which someone is designated as “the murderer” and someone else “the victim.” The other guests are charged with finding out who “the murderer” is. When Rankin is really killed, Alleyn is called in to investigate and he discovers that there is no shortage of suspects. Alleyn goes on to feature in thirty-one other novels that take place in several different kinds of settings.
There are several appealing things about Alleyn’s character. He’s “well-born,” Oxford-educated and titled, but he’s not overly class-conscious. For instance, in Tied Up in Tinsel, he investigates the disappearance and murder of Alfred Moult, who’s killed during a Christmas house-party given by Hilary Bill-Tasman. The easiest and most obvious suspects are the members of Bill-Tasman’s house staff, all of whom are former convicted criminals. They themselves assume that Alleyn will suspect them so at first they hide what they know about the crime. But Alleyn soon proves that he hasn’t drawn any conclusions about them yet. In this case and in several other cases, Alleyn shows that he is no respecter of class and wealth when it comes to finding a murderer.
Alleyn is a skilled detective, but he doesn’t solve cases through sheer brilliant guesses; that, too, is appealing. He draws conclusions and makes deductions from what he sees, hears and reads. For example, in Enter a Murderer, Alleyn is attending a production of The Rat and the Beaver at the Unicorn Theatre when one of the actors Arthur Surbonadier is shot by a prop gun that’s been tampered with and left loaded. Alleyn begins to investigate and gets the evidence that he can through interviews with witnesses and suspects as well as the evidence such as the gun, a pair of gloves and the body. When he deduces what must have happened, he lays a trap for the murderer to see if he’s right. In other words, Alleyn solves crimes through evidence, logic and deduction, not magic.
At the beginning of the series, Alleyn is single but in Artists in Crime he meets noted artist Agatha Troy. In that novel, Alleyn is called in when model Sonia Gluck is murdered during at a gathering at Troy’s home Tatler’s End House. What Alleyn’s boss doesn’t know at first is that Alleyn and Troy have already met during a sea voyage. That first meeting didn’t go particularly well although Alleyn is already smitten with Troy. When she becomes a suspect in the murder, things get even more awkward. But as Alleyn soon learns, she isn’t the only suspect by any means. By the end of the novel, they’ve established a relationship and it develops later into marriage and parenthood. Alleyn’s family life also makes him an appealing detective. In fact, considering that the novels were written mainly during the Golden Age, one could argue that he’s quite ahead of his time in terms of the domestic partnership he and Troy establish. It’s obvious that he loves his wife very much and doesn’t like the thought of her in danger. That’s in fact his main concern in Tied Up in Tinsel – that his wife may be in jeopardy. At the same time though, Alleyn knows very well that his wife is smart, skilled and observant; he doesn’t really condescend to her. He misses her very much when they’re apart and enjoys her company when they’re together. They do have their domestic stresses now and again and that just makes Alleyn more human. Yes, he’s actually a police detective with a strong marriage and no problem drinking habit. 😉
Besides his personal development as the series goes on, Alleyn also develops professionally. He rises in the ranks of the police, ending up as Detective Chief Superintendent. He also gets involved in several international cases and does some wartime service too. That varied professional experience makes him a more well-rounded character. It also gives his character depth, believability and interest.
Roderick Alleyn is often compared to other “gentleman detectives “such as Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey and P.D. James’ Adam Dalgliesh. And there are some similarities among these men. But Alleyn is a unique character with a love of theatre, a solid detective’s intuition and a sense of humour too. Little wonder I decided to feature him first in this meme.
Want to join the Crime Fiction Alphabet meme yourself? It’s a lot of fun! Just add your blog to the set of links and come along for the ride. Thrills and chills guaranteed!