Vintage Mystery Challenge - Location
Rotorua, New Zealand
Rotorua is about a 45 min drive south from where I live. It lies on the shore of Lake Rotorua, at the heart of the North Island and, as one of the world's most active geothermal areas, its spouting geysers, thermal hot springs and boiling mud pools make this city a real tourist mecca.
"There's a most unpleasant smell about this place"
Yes, there is when you first come into it and why it's generally known as Sulphur City but after a while you barely notice it.
Colour Scheme is set during WWII, in the hills near Rotorua where British ex-pats Colonel and Mrs Claire own a run-down thermal spa resort at Wai-ata-tapu, with the help of their son and daughter, Mrs Claire's irascible brother, Dr.Ackrington, and a drunken remittance man. Their one long-term resident is Mr Maurice Questing, a most unpleasant man, who Dr Ackrington suspects of being a spy and writes to Inspector Alleyn who is visiting New Zealand.
The arrival of new guests, the well-known Shakespearean actor, Geoffrey Gaunt and his entourage , prompt the local Maori community to invite the residents of the resort to a concert. It is as they make their home afterwards through the thermal area that Maurice Questing suffers a nasty death.
I would have enjoyed Colour Scheme even without the murder mystery which , well-constructed and entertaining as it is, takes a backseat to the setting and the characters.
The thermal areas of Rotorua have a unique landscape. I've never walked there in the moonlight but even by day the hissing of the steam and the plopping of the mud pools creates an unearthly and eerie atmosphere which Ngaio Marsh captures very well.
She also writes brilliant dialogue and her sharp caricaturing of the traits and language differences of the British and both European and Maori New Zealanders is wickedly funny.
I wouldn't recommend Colour Scheme to anyone who hasn't read Ngaio Marsh before as the plot is a little slow and Inspector Alleyn isn't as visible as usual but those familiar with her work will enjoy the opportunity for a brief look at a part of my country and a glimpse into Maori culture.