After really enjoying ‘Scales Of Justice’, I found myself a little disappointed in ‘Tied Up In Tinsel’. It was a mildly entertaining Christmas mystery that started well as a sort of brightly-lit pantomime peopled with characters so eccentric but so recognisable that they could be straight from Comedia Del Arte or a British sixties sitcom. It spiralled down into a pedestrian investigation once Alleyn arrived and rather fizzled out.
I particularly regretted that, having been centre stage for the first half of the book, Troy Alleyn, Roderick Alleyn’s wife becomes a shadow in the background once her husband arrives. I know that this is probably realistic but nothing else about this deliberately larger-than-life book is realistic, so insisting on realism here seems such a waste.
I had great hopes of the conceit of the novel: a murder at Christmas, at an elaborate Druidical/Christian hybrid pageant, in a snowed-in Country House where all the servants are convicted murderers. Initially, the book lived up to its promise providing an extraordinarily colourful cast with host, guests and servants all having bizarre characteristics, histories and mannerisms. I think they shone particularly brightly through Troy Alleyn’s empathetic eyes. The start of the book was also filled with good-humoured, pantomime style humour that worked quite well.
The book took a dive once Alleyn was dragged in to investigate the disappearance of a member of the household who is feared to be dead. I found Alleyn to be dull. I also hadn’t realised just how much upper-class entitlement he wraps around himself while setting out to be ‘firm but fair’ and ‘good with the chaps’.
I thought the mystery was a little too transparent, based as it was on one false assumption, so I found myself waiting for Alleyn to figure out how to prove the culprit did it. The mechanism for doing that, when it finally arrived, was implausible and rather lazy.
The novel felt old-fashioned for something published in 1971. It was filled with a previous generation’s stereotypes but then, most of the participants were quite old.
James Saxon’s narration was a bit variable. He got some of the characters voices perfectly and managed the humour very well but he couldn’t cope with the young female lead’s use of ‘You know’ as verbal padding. It sounded like he’d never heard the phrase used that way and so he made it sound rather odd. I also got the impression that he didn’t trust the text outside of the dialogue and rather rushed it in parts. His, often plummy, narration probably contributed to my impression of the book as old-fashioned.
Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear a sample of James Saxon’s work.