A Man Lay Dead

I’ve been reading mysteries ever since I was about eleven or twelve years old, and I’ve been friends with the Queens of Crime nearly that long. I started with Agatha Christie, blazed through at least three-quarters of her mysteries, and then stumbled upon Margery Allingham and the joys of Albert Campion and Lugg. When I finally discovered Dorothy Sayers, I had found my joy, my crown. I more or less stopped looking for twenty years.

So I suppose that’s how I managed to read squillions of mysteries over the years (yes, “squillions” is a technical term, and if you force me, I can prove it) and never read one single book by the fourth Queen of Crime, Ngaio Marsh. I know! Shocking! I finally decided to redress this injustice and begin at the beginning with her very first mystery, a purely typical country-house murder called A Man Lay Dead.

Oh what a pleasure it was! The characters are engaging, the dialogue is witty enough to be called banter, and there is (oh joy) a subplot about mad Bolshevik Russians and their secret brotherhoods. The murder itself is tricky, but not totally unsolvable, and Marsh doesn’t make the rookie mistake of forcing us to suspect each person in turn. It is a lovely, lovely puzzle, filled with beautiful little set-pieces.

But the best part of all is the detective, Roderick Alleyn. It occurred to me straightaway that I don’t believe any of the other Queens wrote about a police detective. Lord Peter, of course, is an aristocrat, and so is Albert Campion, even if secretly; Miss Marple stumbles across crimes, and Hercule Poirot is a private detective. But Detective Chief Inspector Alleyn is something different. He’s no one’s idea of a plod. He’s educated at all the right schools, he’s connected, he’s intelligent, he’s got empathy and a sense of humor and a set of nerves — but he’s authorized to be there, and he’s going to find out who killed Charles Rankin, like it or not.

Well, I liked it. I liked Alleyn immensely. I suspect that he will never be my true love (that is reserved for Lord Peter and Lord Peter alone among the stars in the firmament) but I think that he and I are destined to develop rather a nice relationship. I’m going to read Enter a Murderer next, and see what he has in store for me.

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10 Responses to A Man Lay Dead

  1. Harriet says:

    I am such a huge fan of the Queens of Crime and was introduced to Marsh by my mother when I was still a nipper. Interesting comment about Alleyn, which had never struck me. What a lot of fun you have in store!

  2. Lisa says:

    Our mystery reading followed a similar path! I fell hard for Peter Wimsey myself, to the point of not liking Harriet Vane much at all, at least initially (now Strong Poison & Gaudy Night are my favorites). And I’m sure Peter pre-disposed me for Francis Crawford of Lymond. A friend introduced me to Campion, first through the TV version, which is also how I found Alleyn, and then as usual I discovered that the books are so much better.

    • Jenny says:

      Lord Peter *absolutely* predisposed me for Lymond, Lisa. All that blond-scion-of-a-noble-house stuff, can’t go wrong with that!

  3. Deb says:

    Have you read mysteries by either Christiana Brand or Josephine Tey? They’re sort of on the next-lower tier from the four acknowledged Queens of Crime (I guess you’d call them Duchesses of Crime). Anyway, police detectives are central characters in both of their works. Brand’s detective is Inspector Cockrill and Tey’s is Allan Grant. Their books are well worth checking out. In addition, Georgette Heyer–although better-known for Regency romances–wrote a series of detective novels in the 1930s; however, I must admit I like Heyer’s romances much better than her mysteries (which border on campy and are too easy to solve).

    • Jenny says:

      I’ve read all of Tey. I didn’t think of her police detective because not all of hers feature him (Miss Pym, Brat Farrar, etc). But I’ve never even heard of Christiana Brand! Thank you so much for the heads-up; I’ll look right away. And what a lovely title — the Duchesses of Crime. :)

  4. Cori says:

    Yes! I’m so excited whenever people discover Ngaio Marsh — I just absolutely love her. Her mysteries are continually a delight!

    • Jenny says:

      I honestly don’t know why I never tried her before — maybe because my parents never did and I started by browsing in their library at home? But whatever the reason, I’ve found her now!

  5. Kristen M. says:

    Okay, late comment but I too totally fell in love with Alleyn. And then he got a love interest who I strongly disliked and then I stopped reading the series. Seriously. I don’t know if I would feel the same now and I do miss Alleyn. Maybe when you get to that point in the series, you can share your thoughts on the woman.

    • Jenny says:

      Ha! I wonder if you disliked the woman because, like Lisa above with Lord Peter, you liked Alleyn too much! I’ll definitely let you know what I think of his sweetie.

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