On a summer evening in 1942 in New Zealand a formidable woman MP Florence (Flossie) Rubrick walks through the grounds of her home on a famous sheep farm, to the wool shed to practise her forthcoming speech. No one sees her again. Three weeks later she turns up at a wool auction, gruesomely packed tightly into a bale of wool.
A year later, Flossie’s husband’s nephew Fabian Losse asks Roderick Alleyn – who is in New Zealand to undertake investigations for the government – to look again at the case. He invites Alleyn to Mount Moon the family home and sheep farm, to meet the members of the household who were there at the time of Flossie’s murder. They include Flossie’s niece Ursula Harme, and nephew Douglas Grace, Terence Lynne, Florence’s secretary and Markins a manservant. Alleyn also meets several of the wool workers particularly Cliff Johns, the son of the manager, who had been a particular favourite of Florence’s and in whom she had taken a rather odd special interest. Two of these people, Fabian Losse and Douglas Grace are in the process of an engineering design that will be vital to the war. There is some suggestion that details of their plans have been leaked, this sort of investigation fits Alleyn’s brief in New Zealand, and so he is justified in investigating Florence’s murder while looking into the possible leaking of wartime secrets.
Alleyn who is now married to Agatha Troy – the artist who appears in several earlier Ngaio Marsh novels – is very much on his own in the novel, his faithful inspector Fox is also back in England, Alleyn misses the presence of these two key people, and I must say – so did I. It is easy to see that Ngaio Marsh had a theatrical background – she sets her scenes of action in a very theatrical way – a group of people gather one evening to discuss Florence with Alleyn – allowing both Alleyn and the reader to get to know every side of Florence. Each character relates their take on the events of a year earlier, and presents their opinions of Flossie, this way of telling a story could be dull. Yet Ngaio Marsh knew theatre – and this story telling device is deftly handled. Having heard these stories Alleyn must later go out to the infamous wool shed, and speak to the workers.
So who killed Flossie Rubrick? While staying at Mount Moon Alleyn sets himself to solving the mystery and in the process reveals one or two other little secrets.
Died in the Wool was a nice diverting cosy type read on a week when I have been almost too tired to read, and a tiny bit stressed at work, it was the kind of book I needed to be reading. It was certainly not my favourite Ngaio Marsh novel, it is also the first one that I have read set in her native New Zealand – I was looking forward to reading it for that reason, but I think I prefer the England based novels. I seem to remember from the biography of Nagio Marsh – that Ngaio Marsh returned to New Zealand during the war – and so Alleyn necessarily had to go with her.