Tuesday, June 1, 2010

BOOK: Vintage Murder by Ngaio Marsh

I am posting a stop on the Classics Circuit today- the golden age of detective fiction. Authors like Agatha Christie, Raymond Chandler, Dorothy Sayers and Ngaio Marsh wrote great detective novels in the 1930s that have lasted until today, and are still as popular as ever. Ngaio Marsh's books are in new release at my local book store, as are Georgette Heyer mysteries. I've read nearly all the Agatha Christie books back in my teens. I thought I'd try a new author and travel to anther part of the world at the same time.

Vintage Murder by Ngaio Marsh, 256 pages

1930s Mini-Challenge; Global Reading Challenge: New Zealand

1. Starring Detective Inspector Roderick Alleyn. I think I'm going to like him. He reminds me of Inspector Gamauche of Three Pines by Louise Penny. Smart and subtle and gets a great read on people very quickly. Alleyn is on holiday from Scotland Yard in New Zealand. Alleyn stars in 33 books. I like finding a new detective to read about, but 33 sounds like a lot of books.

2. Vintage Murder was set in New Zealand, where Ngaio Marsh was born and lived. Marsh was also a theatre director, and Vintage Murder is set within a traveling theatre troupe. The troupe is touring from England, and they meet up with Inspector Alleyn in New Zealand on a train. Apparently, Marsh set many of her books in the theatre.

3. "a murder committed in a closed environment by one of a limited number of suspects"
Wikipedia states that the Golden Age of Detective Fiction is based on this premise. I did not know that. Vintage Murder is a classic then, because someone in the troupe must have murdered Alfred Myer, co-owner of the Carolyn Dacres Comedy Company. He's murdered at a party, with only the troupe in attendance. Luckily, Alleyn was there too.

4. Much of the detecting involves figuring out who was where, when, and what motive they might have. Alleyn, working with the local police, even makes a spreadsheet, included in the book, to organize the data. Gotta like a spreadsheet from the 1930s.

5. The local police are somewhat in awe of Alleyn and let him have free reign. He is quite aware of not stepping on toes and is very respectful. Nice international cooperation.

6. I have never been good at figuring out who the murderer is. I fall for every red herring. I know to not suspect the most obvious suspect, but that's about it. I'm always surprised and pleased with the endings of mysteries. Sadly, even when I've read the book already, I probably still don't know who the murderer is. I'm the perfect reader for mysteries that way.

7. A little awkwardness in the periodness of the book. There is a Maori character in the book, and while written in language of the day, some of it is that awkward, uncomfortableness of thinking - was it really acceptable to write about people this way? To use these descriptions? Marsh is respectful Dr Rangi Te Pokiha, but some unenlightened phrases are used.

8. I know I shouldn't compare, and I should judge this book on its own merits, but, I read Murder on the Orient Express very soon after reading Vintage Murder, and the Marsh pales next to the Christie. I liked the Marsh, and I wouldn't not read another one, but I've now got a hankering to reread a lot of those Agatha Christie books I read as a teenager. She really is the master. Vintage Murder was a perfectly acceptable murder mystery, with great characters that follows the classic style, but Murder on the Orient Express was a 'wow' read that really sets the standard.

Also on the tour today, Notes from the North is reviewing The Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie. Ooh, I bet that's a good one! It was recently voted best Christie mystery in a very unscientific poll of readers of Kerrie's Mystery in Paradise blog.


  1. Oh, I just love Ngaio Marsh! I'm supposed to be re-reading her books in order, as I've read so many of them all over the place I don't know which I've read anymore and it was so long ago. I like her Inspector Alleyn much better than Christie's Poirot but I'd put Christie's Miss Marple or Tommy & Tuppence first.

  2. I regularly fall for red herrings too. I'm totally gullible - except occasionally I get in a figuring-things-out mood and catch clues all over the place. But it doesn't come on that often, plus sometimes I read the end because I can't resist.

  3. Can you believe that I love detective fiction but have never read Ngaio Marsh - must sort that out!

  4. There's nothing wrong with falling for red herrings - that's a great deal of the fun of reading a classic mystery, where the author sets out to misdirect you quite artfully!

    I enjoy both Christie and Marsh - Christie was unequalled in devising ingenious plots, but I think Marsh's characters in general are better developed.

    Let me recommend another of my own favorite Marsh mysteries: "Death of a Peer," published in the UK as "A Surfeit of Lampreys." It starts in New Zealand, but the mystery unfolds in London, and the characters are a delight.

  5. nicola - I'd never heard of Marsh before this year. I've always been a Poirot girl, so it'll take a while for Alleyn to approach Poirot's status for me! Alleyn reminded me of Gaumauche by Louise Penny. I'll have to read more to see that.
    I love T&T as well, but have never been a Miss Marple fan. Different strokes, I guess.

    jenny - I never read the end! Sometimes in checking how many pages are left I accidently see something, then I try to forget what I saw (like a character's name) but of course, that never works. The only book I read a chapter near the end was On the Road, cause I hoped something better would have happened, but no such luck. So I stopped reading it.

    hannah - that's how I felt before reading this. And she's written tons of books. It's like I had never read (or heard of) Georgette Heyer either. I'm not sure what rock we've been under.

    les - thank you so much for the recommendation! I'd like to read another book by Marsh, and there are so many to pick from, so getting a known good title is great. I'm looking forward to getting to know Alleyn better.

    And that's exactly it with the red herrings, I just let go and let the author lead me where she thinks it will be best to go.

  6. I almost read Marsh for this circuit so I was quite interested in your review. I'm not a big mystery reader but I always enjoy learning about new authors.

  7. I tend to do the same thing with mysteries. I forget the plot almost immediately after finishing it, so I can almost always reread them and it's like new! I do that with movies too, but no other types of books. It's odd. The reviews of Marsh have been a little mixed on the Circuit, but if I ever get tired of rereading Christies's books I'll give her a try!


Thanks for commenting, so nice of you to visit.

(I'll try without the letters for a while - so please dont be a spammer! Let's try no anonymous users)