Friday, January 12, 2018

Death of a Fool by Ngaio Marsh

Every December on the first Wednesday after the winter solstice, the Mardian Morris Dance and Sword play was performed outside of the Mardian castle. The performers this year were the William Anderson(know as the Guiser)  and his five sons as the Morris dancers. There were also Ralph Stayne who was the Betty ( dressed half in men's clothes and half in women's) and Simon Begg as the Crack (as a horse in a heavy metal headdress). This performance had been performed for many, many years and was probably an ancient fertility ritual and a rite of resurrection.

Part of the performance was when William Anderson in the part of the fool was surrounded by his five sons who danced around him with swords. At the end of this dance, they pretended to kill him, and he went to sit behind the Mardian dolman. The sons danced some more and then their father was suppose to return brought to life again. At the end of this year's performance, he did not return. Instead his body was found behind the dolman with his head cut off.

Inspector Appleby and his team was called in from London since the investigation of this crime was beyond the resources of the local police constable. They examined the scene of the crime, and interviewed all of the performers. They also interviewed some of those who had watched the performance. Dame Alice Mardian the ninety year old head of the family, and her great niece Dulcie who was a bit strange in the head, and Camilla Campion who was William Anderson's granddaughter who had returned to see the performance. Another who came to view the performance was Mrs. Bunz who had an avid interest in folklore, and who was always attired in handwoven clothes. The mystery of who killed William Anderson was not solved until there is a reconstruction of the original performance.

If you are interested in English folklore, I would highly recommend this book. It contains a great deal of information about this type of performance. Here in Philadelphia where I live, the mummers have a parade every year on New Year's day which I am sure must be derived from this type of English custom.

This book was written by Ngaio Marsh and published in 1956. She is one of my favorite mystery authors and I have very high praise for this book.  I have read this book for the 2018 Just the Facts, Ma'am challenge in the category of When - during a performance of any kind.

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