Murder, Ancient and Modern
In this uneven collection of short stories, Marston explores murder throughout the ages, from ancient Roman provinces to contemporary England. Perhaps Marston, who is known for his Elizabethan mystery series, is out of his element in the short story medium, but many of the stories seem flawed in one way or another. Marston has been noted in the past for his character development, but this requires more than usual skill in the truncated format necessitated by the short story, and in some of these offerings, Marston fails to imbue his waxwork characters with life. Other stories have more well developed characterization, such as the story about acquaintances out pleasure boating, but the motive for the crime seems laughably implausible. Still other stories have decent characterization and motive, but the crime itself is barely explored before a token, heretofore unmet villain is hauled onto the page so the reader can be fed an abbreviated sentence or two about why this villain hated the protagonist and felt the need to commit his crime. Marston also seems to have difficulty conjuring a convincing historical atmosphere for some of the earlier stories, although he does do better with those set from the Victorian period onward. There are elements of humor in some of the stories, particularly in the story of a frustrated author’s first (and last) meeting with a less than sympathetic publisher, and most of the stories are interesting enough to hold the reader’s attention. Overall, however, this collection is not one of Marston’s better efforts, and readers would probably do better to stick with his mystery series.