"Dame Ngaio Marsh was born in New Zealand in 1899 and died February 1982. She wrote over twenty-five detective novels and many of her stories had theatrical settings, for Ngaio Marsh's real passion was the theatre. She was both actress and producer and almost single-handedly revived the New Zealand public's interest in live theatre. It was for this work that she received what she called her 'damery' in 1966. Ngaio Marsh's last detective story, finished just before she died, is Light Thickens. Her autobiography Black Beech and Honeydew, is also a Fontana paperback" excerpted from Death in Ecstasy, published in 1936.
Ngaio Marsh's most enduring character is Metropolitan London Police Inspector Roderick Alleyn. She wrote 32 novels featuring Inspector Alleyn. Over the past few years, at various used book stores and the annual local Rotary Club Book fair, I've collected 17 of Marsh's novels. I've previously read 3 of them;
1. Vintage Murder - It was published originally in 1937 and was the fifth Roderick Alleyn novel. It follows Alleyn to New Zealand where he is involved trying to solve a murder in a travelling acting troupe.
2. Died in the Wool - This is the 13th Alleyn mystery, published in 1945, and once again finds him in New Zealand. The novel is set in 1945 and finds Alleyn involved in counter-espionage work.
3. Tied up in Tinsel - One of Marsh's last novels, it was published in 1972. I read this one in Dec 2012 as part of a Xmas - type genre challenge. The novel is set during the Xmas period and takes place at a celebration in a country estate, that is being visited by Alleyn's wife, Troy.
So as you can see, I do have quite a few lining my shelves that are still to be read. I started January's challenge by reading the first ever Alleyn novel, A Man Lay Dead. The mystery was published in 1934 and takes place at a country estate in England, where, of course, a murder takes place. Alleyn is called down from London to help with the investigation. It's a wonderful introduction to his cool, suave character. He has a casual, relaxed manner, but at the same time, when it comes time to place the facts out and solve the crime, he is relentless and forthright. Marsh presents the mystery and characters in a well-thought out, well-crafted manner. Excellent story to start off my January challenge.
I am currently reading the third Alleyn mystery, The Nursing Home Murder, which is set in London and involves the murder of the Home Secretary, anarchists and other factors. Reading this story reminded me that the BBC has adapted nine of Marsh's mysteries and presented them between 1993 and 1994 as The Inspector Alleyn Mysteries, starring Patrick Malahide as Chief Inspector Alleyn, William Simons as Inspector Fox and Belinda Lang as Agatha Troy. The reason I bring this series up at this point is because while visiting my sister-in-law and brother-in-law in England over Xmas 2011, we watched this particular episode. Quite entertaining.
As mentioned above, I hope to read 3 - 5 of Marsh's mysteries over January. If I manage to do so, I'll continue in a chronological manner. The next novels would be -
Death in Ecstasy - (1936) "The poison was cyanide, slipped into the sacred wine of ecstasy just before it was presented to Miss Cara Quayne at the House of the Sacred Flame. The Victim was a deeply religious Initiate who had trained for a month for her last ceremony. She was also a very beautiful woman. The Suspects were the other Initiates and the High Priest. All claimed they were above earthly passions. But Cara Quayne had provoked lust, jealousy - and murder. Roderick Alleyn suspected that more evil still lurked behind the Sign of the Sacred Flame...."
Artists in Crime - (1938) "It was a bizarre pose for beautiful model Sonia Gluck - and her last. For in the draperies of her couch lay a fatal dagger, and behind her murder lies all the intrigue and acid-etched temperament of an artist's colony. Called in to investigate, Scotland Yard's Inspector Roderick Alleyn finds his own passions unexpectedly stirred by the feisty painter Agatha Troy -brilliant artist and suspected murderess."... Of special interest in this novel, is the introduction of Agatha Troy who will play an important role in Alleyn's future.. :0)
Death in a White Tie - (1938) The Social Event of the Season Has Death on Its Guest List. No one is more popular on London's champagne-and-caviar circuit than charming Lord Robert Gospell. However, on the morning after the year's most glittering ball, someone finds a reason to asphyxiate “Bunchy” Gospell in a taxi headed across town. Scotland Yard’s Inspector Roderick Alleyn is called in to find out who killed his old friend, and to cleverly unwind a tangle of murky secrets that began far from the ballroom floor."
So with luck, I'll manage some of those stories over January. I'll try to summarise them at the end of the month. Just for info, below is the complete list of Alleyn mysteries. I've asterisked those that I currently have on my shelves. I hope you feel enough interest to read one or two of Ngaio Marsh's mysteries.
- A Man Lay Dead (1934) *
- Enter a Murderer (1935)
- The Nursing Home Murder (1935)*
- Death in Ecstasy (1936) *
- Vintage Murder (1937) *
- Artists in Crime (1938) *
- Death in a White Tie (1938) *
- Overture to Death (1939) *
- Death at the Bar (1940)
- Surfeit of Lampreys (1941); Death of a Peer in the U.S.
- Death and the Dancing Footman (1942)
- Colour Scheme (1943) *
- Died in the Wool (1945) *
- Final Curtain (1947)
- Swing Brother Swing (1949); A Wreath for Rivera in the U.S. *
- Opening Night (1951); Night at the Vulcan in the U.S.
- Spinsters in Jeopardy (1954); later in the U.S., The Bride of Death (1955) *
- Scales of Justice (1955)
- Off With His Head (1957); Death of a Fool in the U.S.
- Singing in the Shrouds (1959)
- False Scent (1960) *
- Hand in Glove (1962) *
- Dead Water (1964)
- Death at the Dolphin (1967); Killer Dolphin in the U.S.
- Clutch of Constables (1968) *
- When in Rome (1970)
- Tied Up in Tinsel (1972) *
- Black As He's Painted (1974)
- Last Ditch (1977) *
- Grave Mistake (1978)
- Photo Finish (1980) *
- Light Thickens (1982)