This classic puzzle mystery (312 pages) was published in March of 2013 by Felony & Mayhem Press. The book takes you to a hot springs resort in New Zealand. Melissa read Colour Scheme and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if she didn't recommend it.
Ah, the resort area of Wai-ata-tapu in New Zealand. Mud baths, hot springs, the majesty of volcanic Rangi’s Peak, a Māori village, and… oops! murder. Welcome to the irresistibly sinister world of Ngaio Marsh, the Kiwi Queen of Crime.
It’s 1942, and the War has made its way south to the waters around New Zealand. Retired Colonel Claire, a nice fellow (and terrible businessman), runs a hot springs spa with his wife with little enthusiasm and not much more success. The resort is on the verge of being taken over by Maurice Questing, a pushy gasbag who offends just about everyone he meets — and who may or may not be a Nazi spy.
Despite its less-than-stellar reputation, the spa is at maximum capacity with a Shakespearean actor (with his personal valet and secretary along for the adventure) and, Mr. Septimus Falls, a mysterious last-minute guest and lumbago sufferer. The cast is rounded out by a ne’er-do-well handyman, the Colonel’s adult (and floundering) children, and a Māori chief.
Between soaks in the mud baths and uncomfortable family meals, we get to know the characters in all their flawed and suspicious glory. Because this is a Golden Age crime story, it’s not long before there are mysterious happenings in this previously soothing patch of New Zealand real estate, including a ship torpedoed in the bay, mysterious flashing lights, unexplained absences, and a disagreement about sacred Māori artifacts.
The drama reaches its peak at a concert held at the community hall of the Te Rarawa community. Before the show has concluded, outbursts and insults fly, everyone disperses, and someone ends up dead — in the boiling mud bath of Taupo-tapu. Detective Roderick Alleyn is on the case to find the culprit and save the day.
This is the twelfth novel to feature the intrepid detective, and one of four that Ngaio Marsh set in her homeland of New Zealand. Marsh considered this to be her best-written novel; it’s much beloved for its rich setting, well-drawn characters, and notes of authenticity regarding life during wartime.
The road corkscrewed its way in and out of a gully and along a barren stretch of downland. On its left the coast ran freely northwards in a chain of scrolls, last interruptions in its firm line before it tightened into the Ninety Mile Beach. The thunder of the Tasman Sea hung like a vast rumour on the freshening air, and above the margin of the downs Rangi’s Peak was slowly erected. ‘That’s an ominous-looking affair,’ said Gaunt. ‘What is it about these hills that gives them an air of the fabulous? They are not so very odd in shape, not incredible like the Dolomites or imposing like the Rockies — not, as you point out in your superior way, Dikon, really mountains at all. Yet they seem to be pregnant with some tiresome secret. What is it?’ — Ngaio Marsh
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