Detective Chief Inspector Roderick Alleyn, in New Zealand during World War II to track down spies, both from outside and from within, travels to the countryside where ranchers keep sheep to investigate a year-old murder and potential espionage in Ngaio Marsh’s Died in the Wool. Flossy Rubrick, a member of the New Zealand Parliament, disappeared a year earlier, only to be found rolled up in a bale of hay five weeks later. So the four people who live at her and her late husband Arthur’s home in Mount Moon host Alleyn after a year of little success at locating the murderer. Alleyn does not serve in his regular role as homicide detective during the war. However, he takes this job because the two young men, Fabian Losse and Douglas Grace, both invalided out of the army, have been working on a top secret device for the military and have had concerns over espionage.
So the evening that Alleyn arrives, he takes the advice of Fabian and spends hours with the four residents, letting each tell him about his or her own impressions of Flossy. So Alleyn holds a sort of inquest among the key characters: Ursula, Flossy’s ward; Douglas, Flossy’s nephew; Fabian, Arthur’s nephew; and Terence, Flossy’s secretary. Each has a very different perspective of and story about Flossy. Alleyn later continues the same pattern of interviewing everyone else at Mount Moon until eventually he finds a solution, but almost to the cost of his life.
Died in the Wool continues Marsh’s pattern of experimenting with different forms of narrative. In this case, she relies on long passages primarily spoken by a single individual but with some commentary by others. This is true especially of the first portion of the book, and I find the method to be rather tedious. The plot speeds up once it gets past the initial inquest. It does throw in some interesting red herrings and twists that we don’t expect.
The beauty of this book is the love we see from Marsh for her native New Zealand. The stunning descriptions of the landscapes and the process of shearing the sheep paint a vivid image. This book really demonstrates Marsh’s gift for language and drawing pictures for us, which is how she is so successful in her books at creating such original and vivid characters.
Wanda McCaddon helps to make the audio edition of this book more enjoyable. She is a clever narrator who makes her books come to life through her expressiveness and inflections.
While Died in the Wool is not my favorite book by Marsh, I still find it better than the best of many other author’s books. I also think it is a worthwhile read to gain insight into life and attitudes during World War II, since at the time of writing, there was no certainty of the result of the war. I give it four stars.
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