Friday, May 24, 2013

Friday's Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: WHEN IN ROME (1971) by Ngaio Marsh

The elegant and oh-so-handsome Superintendent Roderick Alleyn of the C.I.D. is travelling in Rome pretending to be a tourist. He is hot on the trail of drug smugglers whose apparent point man is Sebastian Mailer, a seedy, blackmailing low-life tour guide - 'the cicerone' of Il Cicerone Conducted Tours.

Working with the approval of the Italian police, Alleyn joins the tour alongside several rather eccentric if not out-and-out suspicious individuals: 

Lady Braceley, a charmless British woman of a certain age still attempting to use her ravaged beauty to lure men - if not for her sake, then for the sake of her gay nephew. He is the Honorable Kevin Dorne, drug-addict and general shifty-eyed, no-account sponger.

Major Hamilton Sweet, retired ex-Army chap. The kind of huffy and stuffy 'old school' sort beloved of Agatha Christie once upon a time. In fact, he appears too good to be true, almost as if he'd wandered in from another book.

The Baron and Baroness Van Der Veghel noticeably resemble each other as many long-term married couples do, except more so. The Baron, who works for a very conservative Dutch publishing house, is huge and ungainly and besotted with his equally huge and ungainly Baroness, a woman who shies away from the sordid ugliness of life. The Baron will do anything to protect her from said ugliness.

Sophy Jason, a young and attractive writer of children's books on her first visit to Rome. For her, the tour is an impulse event.

Last but not least, there is Barnaby Grant, famous bestselling author, hardly the sort you'd expect to find tagging along on a seedy tour. When it becomes obvious that Grant is there against his will, Alleyn naturally becomes intrigued.

In fact, we've already met Barnaby Grant in the first chapter - the story expands from Grant's first supposedly accidental meeting with Sebastian Mailer. A most unfortunate incident with unexpected consequences.

The only saving grace for Grant on tour, is Sophie Jason, though he knows he is probably too old for her.

Add to the mix, an abandoned slattern of a wife with a vicious tongue, inquisitive priests, an uneasy restaurateur, a nervous chauffeur/assistant guide, various porters, waiters and even the British Ambassador and you have a lively murder tale full of atmosphere, foreign accents, intrigue, excitable Italian police and plenty of local color as the tour culminates in murder at the basilica of San Tommaso in Pallaria. 

I recommend WHEN IN ROME as the perfect vintage summer reading.

Also: don't forget to check in at Patti Abbott's blog Pattinase to see what other forgotten books other bloggers are talking about today.


  1. It has been far too long since I spent any quality time with Roderick Alleyn.

  2. Oh Pat, time spent with Alleyn is always Quality with a capital Q. :)

  3. I have never spent any quality time with him, I feel like I should rap my own knuckles for that offense.

  4. It's a good 'un, this book is, Yvette. Good review, nice summary of many of the characters (there ARE a lot, aren't there?). I seem to recall that some of the characters - particularly our low-life tour guide - made me want to go take a shower after reading it.

  5. You definitely should, Ryan. These are wonderful books. Just finished reading DIED IN THE WOOL which is another sterling Alleyn book. Though slightly different than most since this one takes place in New Zealand during WWII.

  6. Oh you said it, Les. What an slimy cast of characters. Ha.

  7. Oh, I didn't know you had this up. I will include it next week. Love the Alleyn family.

  8. Patti, I've been posting some forgotten books all the while - I guess I just wanted the freedom NOT to do the post if I ran out of time. :)

  9. After Heyer, it seems as though you are on a Marsh read-a-thon. Thanks for all the reviews.

  10. Don't forget I also over-dosed on Ellery Queen a few weeks ago. Ha.

    I'm planning a Heyer Blogathon in a couple of weeks. :)


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