Now, I do love Marsh, and I love her Detective Inspector Roderick Alleyn, and I love the tangled webs of her mysteries. But I'm afraid this is not my favorite.

In this one Marsh reveals her fundamental, telling ignorance of human character, with her portraits of both the epileptic boy with warts—-since when is epilepsy a developmental disability? I have a cousin with epilepsy who's hot as a firecracker, which she inherited through our mathematical savant grandmother, from a perfectly normal if snippy great-grandmother. . .plus, you know, there's always Dostoievski—-and then, appallingly, the 45-year-old single woman who is apparently by definition, "one of those." It was quite an education to me, I must say, to learn that being both single and female at "that age" is a form of malignant mental illness. I suppose if you can't avoid being female at "that age," the least you can do is get yourself a man so you don't inflict yourself upon society. And we wonder why the patriarchy stigmatizes unmarried women as man-eaters and gold-diggers. Thanks, Marsh.

Also, the premise itself wouldn't wash in any culture not already brainwashed into assuming aristocracy is the natural order of life. An elderly woman inherits, through no virtue or labor of her own, an entire island of which the working-class inhabitants engage in a form of entrepreneurial labor that, to her aristocratic nose, simply reeks of bad taste. So she sets out to put an end to such shenanigans "on my property," without the slightest foreknowledge of who these people are, how they live their lives, or what kind of economic straits they might be in. They make their living in a way that offends her sensibilities—-that's all she needs to know. And she's off to wield her inherited right to stop them.

Is it any wonder they object rather energetically?

Oh, yes, and the early-twentieth century British thing about describing themselves flatteringly in relation to the rest of the world? "That good old British spirit of tolerance and understanding"? Honestly, it's like it never even occurred to them not everyone saw them as the heights of human evolution they believed themselves to be. I have never, ever heard anybody describe the British as being known for their "tolerance and understanding." Truly. They probably have just about as much of it as any of the rest of us. Which is not a whole heck of a lot when you're talking about colonialism.

I did narrow the perpetrator down to two people before I'd even read the first page, just by applying mystery-writer logic to the list of characters in the front (Ellery Queen used to do this, too, to confuse the reader, but if you know the process of elimination it turns out in most cases to be quite a give-away). So I was not surprised to see it come to those two in conjunction.

Still, I can't justify downgrading a beautifully-written book in this era of appallingly lazy fiction. Marsh's fiction skills were always rock solid.