Monday, 27 September 1999

Ngaio Marsh: Grave Mistake (1978)

Edition: Collins, 1978
Review number: 337

Grave Mistake was one of Marsh's very last novels, published in the late seventies. It forms part of a group of good novels which she wrote at this period, being one of her best village crime stories. Like most of her other novels, its characters are taken mainly from the English upper classes.

When the rich widow Sybil Foster dies in an exclusive nursing home near her home, it at first looks as though she had taken an overdose. But it doesn't take long before medical evidence makes it quite clear that this cannot have been what has happened. Though a foolish woman, she did not have enemies, but there are several people who covet her possessions. These include a stepson from her first marriage, whose father's money she enjoyed for life before it passed to him; her neighbour, Greek oil tycoon Nikolas Markos, who covets the house she will not sell, and whose son is betrothed to Sybil's daughter against her wishes. This mixture is further confused by a mystery over the fate of a rare stamp that belonged to her first husband and disappeared at his death.

Little concession is made to the supposedly seventies setting; other than passing references to motorways and Concorde, this could be pre-war England. That means, at least, that we are spared the embarrassing attempts to be contemporary which mar several earlier novels.

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