Ngaio Marsh

Is anyone a big fan of Ngaio Marsh? Which book(s) would you recommend to a first timer? Which ones are your favorites? Least favorites? At the moment I'm reading Singing In The Shrouds 


  • I'm a big fan and have all her books. Actually Shrouds is one of my least favourites. I prefer some of the later ones. My favourites are Death in a white Tie, Night at the Vulcan, Clutch of Constables, False Scent, Grave Mistake, Last Ditch, Dead Water, Light Thickens. It does make sense to read them in the order they were written because there is a family motif - Alleyn first meets Troy, (Artists in Crime), then courts her (Death in a white Tie), then they part because of the war and are reunited (Final Curtain), then they have a son (Spinsters in Jeopardy), and so on. However, a careful reading of the books will reveal that Alleyn's career must be quite long-lived - we first meet him (A Man Lay Dead) when he seems to be in his early 30 at least, and his career spans at least 36 years.
  • edited January 2017
    Many years ago when I was younger I had a huge collection of her books and I tried to read one of them and I just couldn't get into them. I didn't understand the books or her style of writing and I'm guessing a big part had to do with my age at the time. Now, years older of course, I'm returning to her books once again and as I'm reading Singing In The Shrouds I'm loving it a lot more than I did at first. Looking back, I regret selling all those books at the used bookstore. I plan on reading more of Ngaio Marsh from my library and at some point I may buy the books and add them to my collection once again. 

    In which book does Alleyn and Troy marry? When Alleyn starts out in A Man Lay Dead he's an Inspector right? I know he is promoted to Superintendent at some point. 
  • edited January 2017
    In the first book, Alleyn is Chief inspector detective. In the last (Light thickens) he is chief superintendent. I'd have to do a more thorough search to find out when he is promoted. 
    Alleyn and Troy's marriage happens "off screen" - their wedding is not described in any of the books. He starts courting her in "Artists in crime", and in the next book, "Death in a white tie" she accepts his proposal. In the next, "Overture to death" they are going to be married (there is a letter from Alleyn to Troy anticipating their wedded life), and in the next book, "Death at the bar," they are already married. From there on, Troy is mentioned in a few books, makes a short appearance in "Death and the dancing footman" and "Last Ditch" and plays a significant role in "Final curtain", "Spinsters in jeopardy", "Clutch of Constables", "Black as he's painted" and "Tied up in Tinsel". (I may have missed some - I'm relying mainly on memory here).
  • @taliavishay-arbel, did you hear that an unfinished Ngaio Marsh book is in the works? Looks like it's going to be an Inspector Alleyn mystery too though he isn't mentioned in the notes she jotted down, interestedly on the back of a Cleopatra & Antony script for a play. I don't remember as to whether Marsh carved out a couple of chapters or not. 
  • ChristieFanForLife No I havn't. Where did you see that?
  • edited January 2017
    ChristieFanForLife No I havn't. Where did you see that?
    I found it first on an "interview"

    And here's another "link
  • edited January 2017
    @taliavishay-arbel: I know you said you're a big fan of Marsh's books but do you sometimes Marsh's writing hard to understand in certain spots of her books? Are there certain scenes where you have to re-read because you didn't understand them the first couple of times of reading it? Do you sometimes find the writing not flowing as easily or fluidly? 
  • It's hard to answer that, because I read all her books for the first time so long ago. However, I found some of her books more crowded with detail and with less human interest, which made it harder for me to follow. E.G. Swing brother swing, Hand in glove, Death of a fool.
  • This is probably why Agatha Christie is so widely read and still popular, unlike her predecessors. Her writing style is easy to read and not crowded with detail as Ngaio Marsh's books as you said. I guess you can say that Agatha Christie is like an Ernest Hemmingway. To put it more clearly, like Hemmingway, Christie wrote in an easier to read style in an era where books were more florid and prose filled with much detail. Agatha Christie didn't crowd much detail but with enough to say what she wanted to say and to have the reader use his/her imagination to fill in the rest. 
  • Could be. Agatha Christie's writing is definitely simpler - shorter sentences, less embedded clauses and a good but limited vocabulary. I recommend her books to non-native english speakers, because they combine flowing easy to read prose with human interest. Other female writers of the period, like Ngaio Marsh, Margery Allingham and Dorothy Sayers are much more complex in their writing style. (Patricia Wentworth and Georgette Heyer are easier, more like AC).
  • edited February 2017
    @taliavishay-arbel, have you read the Inspector Alleyn short stories in this collection:

    And what did you think of them? I think this is where Ngaio Marsh included an essay on Inspector Alleyn's conception. 
  • edited February 2017
    I have a book called "The collected short fiction of Ngaio Marsh" which includes the story "Death on Air", two more Alleyn stories, some other stories and a radio play. It also has her essays on the birth of Alleyn and Troy. It's probably a re-issue of the book "Death on Air", maybe with a few additions. I wasn't thrilled by it - I liked the essays, and I especially enjoyed the story "I can find my way out" because it showed Mike Lamprey's first detective adventure which connected "Surfeit of Lampreys" to "Night at the Vulcan", and also the murder method which was repeated and mentioned in NATV. Other than that, It's not a book I go back to. I prefer her books to her stories, because I like the character and interaction development, and the stories don't really do that - "Death on Air" certainly has interesting characters and interactions, but it's more like a picture than an ongoing process.
  • ianthepoetianthepoet Buckinghamshire, United Kingdom
    Actually I have seen her her books and wondered what they were like. Can you recommend one?
  • Tommy_A_JonesTommy_A_Jones Gloucestershire, United Kingdom
    A Few years ago there was a Documentary which I think was called Cracking The Christie Code which said just that her sentances are short and her writing is simpler.
  • Actually I have seen her her books and wondered what they were like. Can you recommend one?
    It depends on your taste. The earlier ones are lighter, with more emphasis on the detection, though the human side is good in quite a few - I like "Death in a white tie" and "Scales of Justice". The later ones are more atmospheric, though not necessarily sinister - My favourites are "False Scent", "Grave mistake" and "Light Thickens" (Warning - in the last one the murder is really gory!). Since there is a family element - meeting, courting, a child, the child grows up - you might want to read them in the order they were written.
  • A Few years ago there was a Documentary which I think was called Cracking The Christie Code which said just that her sentances are short and her writing is simpler.
    That is very much my feeling. But the writing is still interesting, though sometimes I wonder why she used simple past rather than perfect past when it is appropriate. But for a non-English native, it makes reading her much more enjoyable.

  • Tommy_A_JonesTommy_A_Jones Gloucestershire, United Kingdom
    I think she used simple because of the Phrase There is something nasty in the wood shed, she wanted to give people a false sense of security behind the simple stuff lurks Deception and misdirection in abundance
  • That sounds right! I've just been reading "Elephants can remember" and was annoyed by the way the characters mix up stories (especially Ariadne Oliver mixing up things she has been told), but then I realized that it was deliberate - to emphasize the vagueness of memories, and the fact that even with a wealth of information, most of it false, from different sources, it is possible to construct a true picture. So that is another example of using language for the purpose of the story.
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