Three Grand Dames of Mystery: “Spinsters in Jeopardy”


The Alleyns take a family trip, with Troy and Ricky joining Rory Alleyn in the South of France in Ngaio Marsh’s Spinsters in Jeopardy. They find themselves in a situation where Detective Chief Inspector Roderick Alleyn gets sent by MI-5 to look into how drugs are entering into England. But also, in Roqueville, near the location of the chateau where Alleyn is to be sent, Troy has an eccentric third cousin once removed, Moinsieur Garbel, who has been sending her strange letters, complete with used train tickets and details of his chemistry work. So the Alleyns determine to break their rule against combining Rory’s work with family activities and choose to take the trip to the South of France together.

Early on the morning that they must get off their train, Alleyn looks out the window of his train, which has stopped to be allowed to enter a tunnel, and sees a man getting stabbed. As Troy rushes into Alleyn and Ricky’s train compartment, she reveals that she too has witnessed the stabbing.

Shortly before their scheduled stop, the conductor seeks help from the English couple to help communicate with a fellow Englishwoman who is in serious medical distress and speaks no French. The doctor on board diagnoses a perforation of her appendix and says that if Miiss Truebody does not have surgery immediately, it could cost her het life. He recommends an Egyptian Dr. Baradi, who happens to be staying at the chateau, leaving a dose of sodium pentothal he is carrying to give to doctors in need to use as an anesthetic. So the Alleyns get roped into visiting the charteau, with Alleyn serving as assistant and Raul Milano, their official driver and a former military corpsman, serving as anesthetist. This gives Alleyn the entree he needs to gain access inconspicuously to the chateau, where obviously Oberon, the leader who who likes to call himself Ra after the Egyptian god, has created a cult. As Troy describes her observations of Oberon’s mix of practices: “Yoga, Nitche, black magic, voodoo, I wouldn’t be surprised.” Then, when Alleyn gets to the hotel, he discovers a frantic Troy, as Ricky has been kidnapped.

Spinsters in Jeopardy deals with the issues of cults, drugs, and sex. I don’t enjoy the general topic of cults, as they usually do seem to involve drugs and sexual issues, frequently, as in this case, with the leader’s trying to have sex with each of the women, often in a public ceremony. Marsh’s other book about a cult, Death in Ecstasy, deals with similar themes. I did enjoy getting to see Troy and Ricky, the latter of whom shows up in only two books, this one and 1977’s Last Ditch, where Ricky is a young man. Troy comes across as a strong woman put in an unbearable situation, that of having her son kidnapped, leaving her frantic for the safety of her son.

Most of the characters from the chateau are fairly flat, with Oberon seeming like a stock character as a typical leader of a cult as seen in similar pieces of literature. Oberon uses drugs to control his followers and combines various writings popular with cult leaders in such books. The cult members seem very typical of drug addicts willing to do what it takes to get their fix.

The narrator of the audiobook, Nadia May, does an excellent job performing this book. She does a lot to make this book seem real and helps to make the book more enjoyable than I imagine reading the book on one’s own would be.

I am not a particular fan of Spinsters in Jeopardy, but as a big fan of Ngaio Marsh, I do have an appreciation for this book. The characters don’t have Marsh’s usual depth, and the cult plot gets tedious. However, the writing gives it a quality that allows the book a certain strength, giving it three stars.

To purchase this book for yourself, click here on Amazon.

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