Tuesday, 2 April 2019

Ngaio Marsh -


Back when I was in my late teens, intoxicated by having wages (which in those days came as a fold of crisp notes in a little purple packet made of what looked like grease proof paper but with all the mad swirls on the inside so you couldn’t see through) I started branching out and reading crime writers who were not Agatha Christie or Conan Doyle. Michael Innes, Margery Allingham, Leslie Charteris (does he count?) P D James, Ruth Rendell, Ellis Peters and, of course, Ngaio Marsh.

Marsh was my favourite new discovery at the time, and I fully intended to read them all, not relying on serendipity to pick them up second hand but buying them in the new brightly coloured paperbacks, ordering one and then the next so that I read them more or less in order.  But somehow I dropped off, frustrated by the not especially helpful bookshop in Covent Garden I may have mentioned before (I read a short story by the owner later in life and wondered if the problem was just that he wasn’t a bookshop owner, but a frustrated author doing the next best thing) but also because I was getting less out of them as I went along.

At the time I wasn’t sure why – I didn’t blog, I wasn’t writing essays, and I wasn’t in the habit of analysing a text too closely. I just accepted that I wasn't enjoying them anymore, and I stopped.

Reading The PassingTramp on Marsh made me wonder again what I would think of those books now. Did I just fall out of love with them? Or did they get progressively less enjoyable? Was it the snobbery and sexism? If so why should Christie’s be just a little irritating to me but Marsh’s really objectionable? 

So while on holiday in Siracusa I downloaded and read two that I had absolutely not been enamoured of the first time round. Spinsters in Jeopardy and False Scent.

Well, Spinsters in Jeopardy is not as bad as I remembered. I remember the Alleyns' young son as being deeply annoying. Actually he’s alright, as children in adults books go. Neither too twee and unbelievable or a miniature adult. The mystery is just plain odd, with it’s themes of cults and drugs and bringing a child anywhere near where this was happening, which you absolutely would not do and your superiors would rightly give you hell for doing. Spadework is done to make it clear this wasn’t the plan and yet, somehow, it happens, but even then I cannot believe either parent would go along with it or worse, having done it, take their eye off him for a second once the bad guys know what he looks like. Even the younger me knew that kidnapped children do not normally turn up safe and sound and just a bit tearful, and the confidence of the police and Alleyn and to a lesser extent Troy was ludicrous.

Other than that it’s a daft but entertaining story of drugs and Satanism and stabbings and some of the supporting characters were excellent, so maybe a 6.5/10 - were it not a Marsh I would probably be more generous.


False Scent on the other hand made me very uncomfortable. I barely remember this one at all, although I did remember the murderer and the motive, which made me even more uncomfortable this time round, and raised flesh-creeping questions about the value of women as people instead of some kind of bauble to look at that is worthless once it’s flawed.


SPOILERS whited out beneath.… please highlight to read:

I could have stomached if the admittedly deeply unpleasant victim had been killed for money or freedom, but she has actually been killed because she’s no longer pretty and nice. And no longer is the correct phrase – the interviews her nearest and dearest have with the police show that she’s been getting worse, which presumably means she’s having some sort of mental or emotional crisis. And instead of support she gets zapped like a bug. Lovely.



So – will I read more? I did also download Grave Mistake a little while ago, and it was a nice workmanlike job of a mystery - but even after a second reading it didn’t really stick. I remember that the most interesting characters were the cleaning lady and the victim’s daughter, but the motive has dropped totally out of my head. I have read Singing in the Shrouds within the last few years (and reviewed briefly) and again it wasn’t as bad as I remembered, but I didn’t love it. I have regularly reread my two favourites Death in a White Tie (mentioned here) and Artists in Crime, (which I absolutely should review at some point). In Death at the Dolphin, on the other hand, I really like the set up but can take or leave the murder. A tale of exasperated management, tiresome intrigues between the cast and the revival of a beautiful old theatre would have done me. 

Others I can't remember at all, and so a reread and filling in of gaps is clearly indicated, and although I'm reluctant to over-commit myself (my course starts in May and I still haven’t finished the Dark Tower series), surely I could commit to a Marsh I don't remember a month? 

Second of the Month, every month. One Marsh. Starting with The Nursing Home Murder, with a little background about A Man Lay Dead and Enter a Murderer, just for context.. 


And I will, I will, I will get the Dark Tower finished.. Maybe I should do my dissertation on it. King is very clear that it was at least inspired by Lord of the Rings, and of course the poem that starts 'Childe Roland to the Dark Tower came..' which line originally came from King Lear, so there's the whole intertextuality thing going on.

And I'd have to finish it then.




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