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Dead Water

Page history last edited by PBworks 14 years, 7 months ago

Marsh, Ngaio - Dead Water (1966)

 

Wally Trehern, a child with learning difficulties as we would say today, sees a 'Green Lady' who instructs him to wash his warty hands in a pool in his native village of Portcarrow. The warts 'miraculously' disappear. When the story is picked up by a journalist, Portcarrow is transformed into a major tourist attraction with hoards of those seeking 'cures' descending upon the village, thereby transforming the fortunes of the village pub which becomes an hotel, the local nursing home, even the Vicar but above all a Miss Cost, who's asthma has also been 'cured' by the pool, who opens a shop dedicated to the sale of 'Green Lady' related paraphernalia, and organises a festival on the anniversary of Wally's 'cure'. Two years later the village, or that part of it on which the pool lies (separated from the mainland by a tidal causeway), changes ownership and the new owner, Miss Emily Pride, a grande dame who happens to be Alleyn's old French tutor, determines that the commercial exploitation of the pool shall cease. She visits the village, much to Alleyn's consternation, at the time of the festival, despite having received threatening letters. When she has arrived a number of incidents directed at her occur. But when a body is found at the pool it turns out to be that of Miss Cost.

 

This book, it will be perceived, shows Marsh fishing in the strange waters which she has previously visited in, for instance, Death in Ecstacy - but she never ventures very far down what might be termed the supernatural path (as Christie for instance might do) ; the 'miraculous' element is under pretty tight control, rather it is the weirdness in which she delights. The central mystery is given added spice by the old stand-by - a debatable victim: was it Miss Cost who was the intended target, or, as she was killed by a stone thrown from above and she had an umbrella, was it Miss Emily Pride? This strategy always allows the writer to engage in more misdirection and cover a wider range of suspects. At the heart of the book is the contrast between Miss Cost and Miss Pride. The latter is an object of much admiration from both Marsh, Alleyn and the young heroine (yet another New Zealander - Jenny Williams); while her obvious sin is that of her surname, she is essentially approved of (and may be compared to Alice Mardian in Off with His Head ). Miss Cost, on the other hand, is part of a much longer list of sex-obsessed spinsters who appear in Marsh - the archetype and finest being found in Overture to Death. Miss Pride herself is Marsh's mouthpiece 'Cost, was I judged, a spiteful woman. It is a not unusual phenomenon among spinsters of Cost's years and class. I am glad to say I was not conscious, at her age, of any such emotion. My sister Fanny...used to say I was devoid of the mating instinct'. Overt sexuality in women, unless directed at one very legitimate object, is usually an object of suspicion in Marsh - it is morally condemned in younger women and in older women leads to neurosis at least - Marsh always allows pity for the latter however, as here with Miss Cost. This is a tricky subject and cannot be covered in a short review. Dead Water is certainly one of the books which would need to be considered when examining the subject however. Whilst not her finest work the basic situation is memorable and the Misses Cost and Pride provide a fascinating study.

 

NickH.

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