Marsh (1895-1982) gets her turn at resurrection in a posthumous tale, barely begun during World War II and set aside, that finds Scotland Yard’s DCI Roderick Alleyn sorely distracted from his secret mission in Marsh’s native New Zealand by the alarums and excursions of one wild night.
Talk about good timing. Aspiring engineer Sydney Brown has never taken the trouble to visit his distant grandfather, a local farmer who’s dying in Mount Seager Hospital, until the night the old man actually expires. Before Matron Isabelle Ashdown or her lieutenant, the amusingly misnamed Sister Gertrude Comfort, can do more than express preliminary condolences to Brown’s young heir, old Mr. Brown’s corpse disappears from night porter Will Kelly’s trolley, replaced by nothing less than the body of the matron. Also missing, and presumably connected, is the 1,000 pound payroll matron had made delivery clerk Jonty Glossop deposit in the hospital’s safe, along with a bonus: the 100 pounds Records Office clerk Rosamund Farquharson, back home from London, had won by backing rank outsider Lordly Stride. Although a storm has knocked out all communications with the outside world, Marsh’s franchise hero just happens to be on hand, summoned to gather information on some sinister coded wartime radio messages, and he instantly takes the case in hand. Over the course of the night, Alleyn interviews West End actress/Red Cross driver Sarah Warne, London physician Luke Hughes, a trio of convalescent soldiers chafing to get back to the war, and the local priest, Father O’Sullivan. They’re all hiding secrets, even the priest, and Alleyn serves less as an interrogator than a father confessor to all of them.
Though tart noir specialist Duffy (The Hidden Room, 2017, etc.) might seem an unlikely choice to flesh out the skeleton Marsh left behind, fans will be hard-pressed to find the joint between the two writers. Only the interminable denouement departs from Marsh’s ruthlessly efficient last acts.