Three Grand Dames of Mystery: “Scales of Justice”

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The people of Swevenings live very insulated lives. Nurse Kettle makes her rounds of the four families in the community: the blueblood Lacklanders, Octavius (Occy) Phinn, Commander Syce, and the Cartaretts. Sir Harold Lacklander, a former ambassador, lies dying and sends for Colonel Cartarett to ask him to edit his memoirs. Once the colonel agrees, Sir Harold lets go and passes away. But the problems have just begun because something in Sir Harold’s memoirs is scandalous, and his family desperately wants to keep it from being published. George, Sir Harold’s son, declares that if Colonel Cartarett goes forward, he will stand in the way of Rose, Colonel Cartarett’s daughter, marrying George’s son, Dr. Mark. Plus, Colonel Cartarett has been feuding over fishing rights on the Chine creek with Occy Phinn. Occy has been fighting with Commander Syce because the latter shot one of Occy’s cats with an arrow. It seems everyone is feuding with everyone else.

Then one evening, Nurse Kettle is traveling across the Chine when she comes across the body of Colonel Cartarett, clearly murdered by serious head wounds. The police call in Scotland Yard, and Lady Lacklander determines to summon Roderick Alleyn because he once worked in the foreign office with her husband and because he is the son of a lord and thus high class. Thus Alleyn and his partner, Inspector Fox, go to Swevenings to investigate. However, they run into roadblocks as the citizens of the small village close ranks and obstruct the investigation by hiding the contents of the infamous chapter from Alleyn. But with his usual ingenuity, Alleyn gets to the bottom of the case.

Scales of Justice is often recognized as one of Marsh’s best books from the middle of her career. It offers a creative solution to the mystery, using a trout as a key to the answer. The book also has some interesting commentaries on class as well, with the Lacklanders serving as the nobility of the community and the others relying on them to govern the area. However, Kitty Cartarett, the second wife of Colonel Cartarett whom he met in Asia while on duty, shows up the community for what it really is to an outsider. She points out how impossible it has been to be accepted into Swevenings society, which is highly feudal and insulated.

Nadia May performs the audio version of this book, showing her adept skills at narration with it. I really love the works of May (nom de vox of Wanda MacCaddon), and she really gives life to this book. She does an excellent job of adding flavor to what is already an interesting book.

Scales of Justice is a clever book with strong and interesting characters that really propel the plot. The first time I listened to this book, I was not as deeply impressed by it, but I’ve since listened to the book several times and have come to appreciate it a lot. It has now become one of my favorite books by one of my favorite authors. I give it five stars.

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

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