Marsh-a-thon

Since the last book post, it’s been eight days and six Ngaio Marsh mysteries, which is a pretty heated pace. And I still have a good half dozen out from the library that I want to read before they’re overdue.

Those last six books are: A Man Lay Dead, Death of a Peer, Vintage Murder, False Scent, Died in the Wool, and Scales of Justice.

A Man Lay Dead is the first mystery that Ngaio Marsh wrote. It’s apparent that she still had a hero in mind that clearly came from Lord Peter Wimsey, however much she denied the fact later. She cheats a bit with her solution, making it partially based on evidence not available to the reader as well as making it extremely fanciful (though not as bad as the solution to Murder on the Orient Express, for which you can find a complete and utter spoiler here). Not an awful book, however, all things considered.

Death of a Peer would have been more enjoyable if the characters (excepting the detectives) hadn’t all persisted in acting as if they had lost all use of their mental faculties. Thankfully, when one reads a mystery story, there is usually a detective to identify with, so one isn’t constrained by the cast of suspects in finding someone with which to sympathise. The author was also commendably honest about placing all the clues in plain sight and still engaging a clever bit of misdirection that had me fooled. A good book.

Vintage Murder is mystery wherein the cause of death is not one I had encountered before. The victim gets a very large bottle of champagne dropped on his head. Unique, neh? Again, Marsh was very good at her job and successfully misdirected me while still leaving the essential clues in plain sight. It also takes place in her native New Zealand, and it is quite easy to see that she is extremely partial to her native land and her fellow-countrymen.

False Scent was a case of poisoning, though in this case I managed to follow up the clues and pick the right suspect. I’m beginning to tire, however, of Marsh’s predilection for making the majority of her mysteries revolve around the theatre or actors. This book, and the one noted just above are such. I suppose she was just writing what she knew, but it still becomes tiresome after a while.

Died in the Wool was a wartime (WWII) story set in New Zealand, where our intrepid Inspector Alleyn has been sent to ferret out traitors and spies in their midst. It treads a bit to the fanciful side, therefore in the motivations of the murderer. The murder was also one that I found particularly gruesome. The clues here, while available to the reader as well, I found more ambiguous than did our hero, though there were really only a couple of likely suspects, taking the period in which the book was written into account.

Scales of Justice A decent mystery, but what I found most notable was the decision to grant Alleyn’s right-hand man, Inspector Fox a bit of depth. He’s usually a fairly cardboard-like stock character, as if Marsh couldn’t be bothered to show him at all human. About half the evidence in this one is cheating by the author, and about half isn’t. I didn’t pick a winner, but I didn’t have everything available to me.

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