This is one of my favourite Ngaio Marsh whodunnits. The plot centres around a few upper-class, long-standing families in the village of Swevenings, an old-fashioned, class-ridden society which now seems charming and secure, although really it was already dying. Roderick Alleyn is called in to investigate the savage murder of Colonel Carterette, because Alleyn is of the same class and will find it easier to penetrate this group of friends - and enemies. Ngaio Marsh has a lively style and a sense of humour and her characters are vividly drawn and just a little larger than life. The nosey local midwife, the heavy-drinking ex-military man, the snobbish aristocrats, the quarrel ostensibly about a trout and fishing rights, even the trout, the women forced into marrying for money and position because they have few other opportunities to make a way for themselves in life, the lonely bachelors, all are sympathetically drawn and very recognisable. This is what I like most about the Roderick Alleyn books.
The plot is a little dated, in a civilised way, but not obvious or boring. I never try to guess the murderer, but sometimes one can't help realising who it is. This has happened to me only once while reading a Ngaio Marsh novel, and it wasn't this one! I found it absorbing and enjoyed the story of the characters more than the actual murder mystery, so that I was sorry to say goodbye to them at the end of the book.
This book was published in 1955, when Marsh had been writing about Alleyn for 21 years. She went on writing about him until 1982, so obviously he aged more slowly than the average man! She was a very good writer, more on a par with Marjorie Allingham than Agatha Christie, in my opinion i.e. witty, versatile and skilled with words. I recommend this book to those who enjoy a gentle, intelligently written village whodunit.