Saturday, 14 January 2012

A Man Lay Dead - Ngaio Marsh

The first of Ngaio Marsh’s Inspector Alleyn mysteries. As a book written partly to entertain herself and partly to see if she could do it, it is quite remarkable. Focussed, smooth, and well paced with an intriguing storyline, it is an excellent first attempt. In retrospect (I have read a number of her books before, including this, though never in order) it is clear this is a first book.

Characterization is sketchy and often so subtle (if at all there) as to make some characters indistinguishable from others, whilst others still are mere ciphers (e.g., the Russian sub-plot). The story is also a little light in places. But in the end, what we have a thoroughly diverting tale that does not rely on a gimmicky detective. It is clearly written without a word wasted, spiced with a dry wit, and full of all the indications that here was a writer who would become a queen of the genre.