Friday, May 3, 2019

More April Reading: Ngaio Marsh

I'm a big fan of certain kinds of mystery stories. I am particularly interested in authors from the Golden Age, partly, I suppose, because I started reading Agatha Christie as a kid and loved those books. I've read some other mystery writers from that time, but not in as much depth as Christie, although I have watched and listened to dramatizations originally made for TV and radio. I have the works of Golden Age Queens of Crime, such as Josephine Tey, Margery Allingham, and Ngaio Marsh, along with Christie, on my e-reader, but have not yet read them. If I am going somewhere, I take the e-reader because it's a compact and lightweight way to haul around hundreds of books, but if I am home, I always feel like I should read the physical books first so I can either return them to the library or pass them on.

One day, though, I had read all of the library books I had checked out and knew it would be a few days until we would be going to pick up the next batch. I was deciding what to read in the meantime and thought of the biography of Ngaio Marsh that was waiting for me at the library. I'd heard about this biography on an episode of the Shedunnit podcast, which has quickly become one of my favourites. We were listening to the radio one night a few months ago and the podcast host, Caroline Crampton, was being interviewed. They also played an excerpt from one of the episodes. They weren't even finished talking when I'd found the page and downloaded the first episode. It's all about the authors, culture, and other aspects of the Golden Age. One episode was devoted to Ngaio Marsh and I requested the biography. I decided to read the first of her books before I went to pick it up. I whipped through that one and was hooked, so started number two. I went on from there and have read the first 5 that I have so far. Vintage Murder says it's the fifth, but the Wikipedia entry says there's one between 4 and that one. All of these feature her detective Roderick Alleyn.

A Man Lay Dead by Ngaio Marsh
The first novel of Marsh's that was published. She was living in London and wrote it quickly, gave it to the publisher and then had to rush back to her native New Zealand because her mother was very sick (and died a few months later). It was there that she learned the book was going to be published. It took her a long time to even get a copy because of how long it took for things to move around the world at that time. The story takes place in a large country house where there are weekend guests. Part of the activities at this house party is the murder mystery game, in which someone pretends to be the victim and someone else the murderer and the others try to guess whodunit. This turns out to be the perfect opportunity for someone to do away with the victim for real. I'd heard a dramatization of this on BBC Radio, so I remembered how it was done, but not really who did it!

Enter a Murderer by Ngaio Marsh
Marsh was involved in theatre all her life and some of her novels, including this one, are set in that world. During a play, with Inspector Alleyn in the audience, one of the scenes becomes all too real when one of the actors doesn't make it off the stage alive.

The Nursing Home Murder by Ngaio Marsh
The British Home Secretary is pushing some legislation through. It is unpopular with the anarchists who are agitating for change--he gets threatening letters from some of them. In addition, a young nurse with whom he has had a weekend fling is also sending him threatening letters. The doctor who works in the 'nursing home' wants to marry the nurse, but she won't marry him because she's ashamed of the fling with the Home Secretary. The doc also threatens this politician. The Home Secretary is having some pain which he assumes is appendicitis, but he puts off having it checked out. One day, in the middle of a speech, he collapses and is brought to--you guessed it--the very 'nursing home' where the doc and nurse work. Another nurse happens to be an anarchist. He needs an operation immediately and there is no one else to do it besides the people who loathe him. He is a pretty loathsome guy, to be fair. In any case, he goes under for the operation but does not wake up. This was a pretty interesting book, with the political aspects to it, with a few things that reminded me a little of today.

Death in Ecstasy by Ngaio Marsh
The last book involved politics and this one revolves around a small religious cult. Tensions and jealousy run high in this small group of people, one of whom is named The Chosen One. During the first ritual with her as Chosen One, she drinks from the cup that is being passed around. That is the end of her tenure as Chosen One as well as the end of her life.

Vintage Murder by Ngaio Marsh
This is another theatre setting, but this time in New Zealand, where Roderick Alleyn has gone to recuperate from an operation. He shares a train compartment with several people from a traveling theatre company. They are British, too, and one was already known to Alleyn from the second book. The star of the troupe is married to one of the owners of the business. She is having a birthday party after the performance (both of which Alleyn is invited to) and her husband works out this elaborate set-up involving a large bottle of champagne being lowered from the ceiling and settling into the centerpiece on the table. Instead it falls down on his head, killing him instantly. The local police ask Alleyn to help.

I quite enjoy these books and I'm glad I started reading them. When I picked up the biography and started reading, I was disappointed. It's a good book and if I had already read all of the novels, I would enjoy it. In fact, I might request it again after I have done so. But for now, I had to set it aside because there are long passages from the novels quoted in the bio and long descriptions of plots and characters. This was fine and even illuminating at times when I was reading about the novels I'd already read, but I did not want to read about the books I have not yet read. I want to enjoy them as the new-to-me novels that they are.

Happy reading!


Vicki said...

I've never heard of Ngaio Marsh but I love Christie and these books sound reallygood.

Brenda said...

These books sound so good

NanaDiana said...

I love that you read such a diversity of literature. I like to read all sorts of books, too-fiction, non-fiction, biographies. The only books I don't care for are the Harlequin Romance sort of books..and I am not too crazy about most science fiction.
Have a wonderful Sunday, Shari. xo Diana