Ngaio Marsh enters the post-war years in 1949’s Swing, Brother, Swing, titled A Wreath for Rivera in America and still published under that name on my version of the audiobook. Lord George Pastern, renowned for extreme eccentricity, seems to have finally lost his sanity when he practically builds up a murder case against himself. Lord Pastern has gotten into jazz and playing the drums convincing Breezy Bellair to let him do a special piece with Bellair’s famous jazz band. They do a musical number in which they intend to use a revolver and blanks. However, neither Lord Pastern nor Carlos Rivera, the villainous accordionist star of the band who has given an ultimatum to George’s step-daughter, Felicite, to announce their engagement, can agree on who will pretend to fall over dead. At the time of the performance, Rivera unexpectedly falls over despite the group’s decision to do the other routine. When Bellair bends over the musician as part of the act, he looks concerned and gets the ushers to carry Rivera out, only for the man to die before the doctor in the audience can reach him.
At this point, Inspector Fox comes in to investigate but is surprised to see the door open and Detective Chief Inspector Roderick Alleyn enter from having been in the audience with his wife, Troy. Naturally, Scotland Yard is happy to hand the case to Alleyn, and he finds himself mixed up in a case with a strange weapon, a crazy family, and curious musicians, with problems of blackmail and drug dealing mixed in.
One element that runs through the book is the magazine Harmony, which performs independent investigations without concern for lawsuits. What makes the magazine especially successful is its very popular advice column run by a highly secretive man calling himself GPF (Guide, Philosopher, and Friend), who also gives advice in private letters for a shilling each. But we the readers don’t understand the connection until the end.
Swing, Brother, Swing has a great mixture of red herrings that help to build up the plot. It has a different feel to it from Marsh’s earlier books, with a more modern feel to it. The book begins with a series of letters among several of the main characters leading up to some of the themes of the book. I liked this way of creating this form of introduction instead of just telling us directly.
A lot of the characters in this book are not very nice people, not ones the reader wants to cheer for. We do enjoy the antics of Lord Pastern, though we also find ourselves a little annoyed at him and the enjoyment he gets from being the chief suspect. We do find ourselves invested in a love plot between two characters who face confusion preventing them from coming together. But best of all, we really see Alleyn and Fox further develop their already- strong relationship, as we see them as both professional and personal close friends.
The two titles under which this book has been published contain very different emphases in the book. A Wreath for Rivera focuses on the death of the murdered man, as the band members threw a wreath over him as they supposed him to be faking his death. But I like the double entendre seen in Swing, Brother, Swing. If you look at the original cover of the book, it especially makes this clear, with swing’s referring to the type of music Rivera performed as well as the fact that the murderer will end up swinging by his or her neck, since England still hanged murderers in 1949.
The audio version I own, under the name of A Wreath for Rivera, is narrated by Nadia May. I really enjoy her performances and the way she brings Marsh’s books to life. Of all my audiobooks by Marsh, I have ones performed by five different narrators, and May is my favorite.
I enjoy all of Marsh’s books, but this one is not one of her best. It has some clever moments and well-drawn characters. But I don’t get as invested in this book as I do many of her other books. I give this book three and a half stars.
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