Thursday, 19 March 1998

Ngaio Marsh: Artists in Crime (1938)

Edition: Fontana, 1978
Review number: 13

Like Vintage Murder, this seems to me to be one of the very best of Ngaio Marsh's detective novels. By the time this book came out, the characters in her series (Alleyn, Fox, Bathgate and so on) were well-established, old friends. In Artists in Crime, another important series character is introduced, the painter Agatha Troy.

As so often happens in Ngaio Marsh's stories, one of the series characters interacts with one of the new characters before the murder happens. This follows on directly from the previous novel in the series, Vintage Murder, as the interaction takes place on the ship on which Alleyn returns from New Zealand to England. One of his fellow travellers is the artist Agatha Troy.

On her return to England, Troy is running a school for several pupils. It is at this school that the murder takes place; of the model they are using. She is a particularly infuriating person, and manages to severely annoy just about everyone. She defaces one of Troy's best portraits, is such a difficult sitter for another portrait that it has to be abandoned, is blackmailing at least one of the pupils, is pregnant by another; basically, no one is really going to miss her.

The way in which she is murdered is typical of Marsh; a trap is laid which leads to the actual murder being committed by someone who didn't necessary set the trap (similar plots where the actual killer may not be the murderer include Enter a Murderer, for example).

The book includes one of the most unpleasant murdered bodies in the whole of classic detective fiction, but otherwise is an impeccable example of the art at its very best.

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