He was not amused.
I hate Wilson's dismissive attitude to classical detective fiction as much as the next person, but I must admit that a passage I came across recently in Crime Queen Ngaio Marsh's Death at the Bar (1940) struck me as just the sort of thing that must have positively set on edge the teeth of such classical detective fiction flayers as Wilson.
Here in Death at the Bar is the introduction of Ngaio Marsh's fancypants police detective, ever-so-aristocratic Roderick Alleyn, on page 87:
"Summer," said Chief Detective-Inpsector Alleyn moodily, "is acoming in and my temper is agoing out. Lhude sing cuccu. I find that the length of my patience, Fox, fluctuates in an inverse ratio with the length of days."
"Don't you like the warm weather?" asked Detective-Inspector Fox.
"Yes, Fox, but not in London. Not in the Yard. Not in the streets, where one feels dirty half an hour after one has bathed. Not when one is obliged to breath the fumes of petrol and the body-odour of those who come to make statements and remain to smell. That creature who left us stank abominably. However, the case is closed, which is a slight alleviation."
|Maybe it was the bad smells|
that killed him?
Then there's Alleyn complaining about being cruelly subjected to body odor in London. Nobody made you take the job, my good man. Recall that your hoity-toity relations wanted you to enter the foreign service! Perhaps you should have heeded them. Smelly Londoners already had Lord Peter and Albert Campion (not to mention Hercule Poirot) to solve their murders for them, anyway.
To be even-handed about this sort of thing (which many critics of classical detective fiction often aren't!), about the same time that Death fatefully entered the bar at Ngaio Marsh's behest hard-boiled master Raymond Chandler gave us the extended and quite unfortunate "The Indian smelled" passage in his classic tough tale Farewell, My Lovely (1940). See Rebecca's complaint about this passage over at Goodreads.
Like Edmund Wilson, Chandler may have loathed Roderick Alleyn, but apparently Alleyn had something in common with Chandler's detective Philip Marlowe: a sensitive nose.
|Mama was right, I should have been a diplomat--|
in one of those pleasant-smelling countries....
Obviously, Death at the Bar did not much appeal to me, but I do like other works by Ngaio Marsh and I will make sure to review one of these works in the future. In the meantime, my next piece will concern a locked room mystery by Bill Pronzini, whose seventieth birthday is this month. Happy birthday, Bill!