Home LibraryBook Review 2024 Reading Challenge: Ngaio Marsh’s Swing, Brother, Swing

2024 Reading Challenge: Ngaio Marsh’s Swing, Brother, Swing

by A Bee In My Bonnet
1 minutes read

This year I’m participating in several reading challenges and this is an entry for those challenges. You can find more posts under these tags:

Goodreads 2024 Reading Challenge - Finished 6/20

Book Review

Swing, Brother, Swing

Swing, Brother, Swing
Format: Paperback
Page Count: 255
Published: January 1, 1949
When Lord Pastern Bagott takes up with the hot music of Breezy Bellair and his Boys, his disapproving wife Cecile has more than usual to be unhappy about. The band's devastatingly handsome but roguish accordionist, Carlos Rivera, has taken a rather intense and mutual interest in her precious daughter Felicite. So when a bit of strange business goes awry and actually kills him, it's lucky that Inspector Roderick Alleyn is in the audience. Now Alleyn must follow a confusing score that features a chorus of family and friends desperate to hide the truth and perhaps shelter a murderer in their midst.

I’m thrilled to finally be reviewing a book by one of my all-time favorite detective story writers, Ngaio Marsh. I first stumbled upon her books back in college when I spotted one at a pop-up stall in the hallway of one of the school buildings. I think the first one I picked up was Death at the Bar. While I wasn’t completely sold on her writing at first, I’m glad I gave it another shot and I’ve been hooked ever since.

This book is also known as A Wreath for Rivera, and the title pretty much gives away who the unfortunate victim of the crime is. Whether the guy truly deserved such a public execution, with a literal spotlight shining on the cast of characters, is up for debate. But let’s be honest, he was a real piece of work, and his exit from the stage (both figuratively and literally) was a blessing for quite a few folks.

The band’s all here…

So, who’s who in the story? First up, we’re introduced to the aristocratic and stereotypically eccentric Pastern and Bagott family through a series of telegrams and letters. There’s Lord Pastern, aka George, the eccentric extraordinaire with a love for jazz music. Then there’s Lady Pastern, aka Cecile, who’s like something out of a French grande dame playbook. And let’s not forget Felicity, or Fee, Lady Pastern’s daughter from her first marriage, who’s gone and fallen for the murder victim, of all people. Oh, and there’s also Edward Manx, The Honorable, of course, who’s a dramatic critic. And last but not least, the lady receiving all these communications – Carlisle Wayne, a cousin who’s just returned from Greek famine relief efforts. Throughout the introduction, there’s this unsavory undercurrent involving a popular jazz band, the same one that Carlos Rivera and Breezy Bellairs are part of.


As with many books from an earlier era, read with some discretion—there might be words, stereotypes, and customs that don’t quite jive with the modern world.

Notes (murderous and non-musical)

My main gripe when I first dove into Marsh’s writing was how easy it was to spot the culprit. It’s not like I could predict the exact murder method, but figuring out who did it felt like a piece of cake. And guess what? The same thing goes for this book. If you pay close enough attention, you’d probably end up at the same conclusion as Roderick Alleyn. Without giving away too much, if you strip away all the drama—both familial and romantic—and just focus on Alleyn’s conversations with his Scotland Yard detectives and the characters, it becomes pretty clear that there’s no one else who could’ve done the deed.

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the book—in fact, I really did. I was hooked on all the drama surrounding that fateful evening out, especially since we get to see it from Carlisle’s perspective. While the Pastern and Bagott family is practically thriving in dysfunction and drama, Carlisle (and to some extent, Edward) isn’t. She’s just returned from abroad, and she’s kind of like the outsider who needs to get up to speed (just like the reader) before being reluctantly dragged into a climax that ends in death.

While my lack of musical ability and familiarity with old-time live bands made it a bit tricky to follow the story, especially once the cast arrived at the Metronome, I still admired the ingenious way the murder was carried out. It’s not something I would’ve ever thought of, and it was a pretty neat way to off someone.

A swing or a miss?

Overall, I absolutely adored this book. I’m a pretty casual reader (okay, very casual), and as I get older, I find myself lacking the energy to delve into anything too deep. I really appreciated how the characters were introduced, and the characterizations and dialogues were much easier to follow compared to some other books I’ve read.

Alleyn and Fox were as charming as ever (big congratulations to the Alleyns, by the way). Sure, there were some subplots that weren’t tied up as neatly as they could’ve been (like the agony aunt angle linked to broken engagements, misunderstandings, and drugs), and the ending could’ve been a bit less passive (Carlisle totally deserved her happy ending on the page!), but overall, it was a delightful addition to my library.

4.2Overall Score

Swing, Brother, Swing

I'm thrilled to finally be reviewing a book by one of my all-time favorite detective story writers, Ngaio Marsh. I first stumbled upon her books back in college when I spotted one at a pop-up ...

  • Plot
  • Characters
  • Setting/Atmosphere
  • Writing Style
  • Enjoyment Factor


Carol May 13, 2024 - 11:03 pm

I love Ngaio Marsh. I read this one a while back and enjoyed it.

A Bee In My Bonnet May 15, 2024 - 7:15 pm

Oh yes! I enjoy her books a lot! In fact, I’m reading another one right now – When in Rome.


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