Thursday, 6 September 2001

Ngaio Marsh: A Man Lay Dead (1934)

Edition: Fontana, 1960
Review number: 935

The influence of Agatha Christie hangs quite heavily over Ngaio Marsh's first novel. It is set in a country house, where a parlour game which involves a pretend murder turns into the real thing. Motivations for the killing are confused by a very period touch, the involvement of a Russian secret anarchist brotherhood whose holy talisman has been sent to the victim.

The reader is introduced to Alleyn for the first time here, and he is clearly a character that Marsh has not yet finally fixed. As an upper class policeman with a former diplomatic career, he clearly draws elements from Dorothy Sayers as well as Christie. He has a number of irritating mannerisms later toned down, and carries on in a manner which would problably not have been permitted in a policeman even in the thirties - involving a member of the public (the journalist Nigel Bathgate) in an investigation, and even deliberately putting him in danger.

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