Enter a Murderer

“That business with the gun went off all right, Felix,” Simpson said, “though I must say I was nervous about it. I hate a fake.”

“Was it all right from the front?” asked Surbonadier, turning to Nigel Bathgate.

“What do you mean?” asked Nigel. “What business with the gun?”

“My God, he doesn’t even remember it!” sighed Felix Gardener. “In the third act, my dear chap, I shoot the Beaver — Arthur — Mr. Surbonadier at close range and he falls down dead.”

enter a murdererAnd in fact, on the night when police detective Roderick Alleyn is watching the play in the comfort of a fifteen-and-sixpenny stall, that is precisely what happens: in the third act, Felix Gardener takes the gun that normally contains dummy cartridges, pulls the trigger, and Arthur Surbonadier falls down actually dead. The fact that he was a drug-taking, woman-abusing blackmailer only complicates matters…

Enter a Murderer is only the second novel I’ve ever read by Ngaio Marsh, and I was absolutely captivated by it. The first one (A Man Lay Dead) I enjoyed mildly, but if I am to be honest (and with whom can I be honest if not you, dear blog readers?) I felt justified in not having read Marsh before now. What was the big deal, anyway? But having had a second encounter with Alleyn, I feel ashamed of my smugness, because Alleyn is The Goods. He’s literate and facetious and funny, but nothing gets in the way of his job. Never would he allow himself to be an amateur detective, because he could not permit himself to avoid unpleasantness. He sees right through the mess, but he doesn’t miss steps.

I will also say that the rest of the book was excellent. The mystery itself is well-constructed, and the secondary characters are lively and well-drawn. The setting is the theatre, which was apparently one of Marsh’s lifelong passions, and the details are wonderfully evocative. I actually recently read a different murder mystery, by Michael Innes, set in the world of amateur theatre, and also excellent, but this didn’t feel repetitive or derivative — it felt exciting and interesting. Ah yes, this is The Goods, ladies and gentlemen. I am not going to wait so long to read the next one, because we need to make a closer acquaintance. I like to read these in order, but does anyone have any particular favorites with Marsh?

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11 Responses to Enter a Murderer

  1. I’m going to go out on a limb here. ;-) My favourite Marsh is ‘A Surfeit of Lampreys’ as a mystery — but I see a fair few comments around the place on it about how snobbish Alleyn is – patronising of the lovely Fox, etc. And, yes, it is a bit like that… but the mystery is a cracker and the cast of characters are completely crazily well done. The one where he encounters the lovely Agatha (Artists in Crime) I like for its addition of a bit of romance. There are lots of Peter Wimsey parallels one could make – Agatha as a Harriet; and Alleyn also has a lovely mother who pops up sometimes too.

    • Jenny says:

      Honestly, what’s wrong with elitism if you’re superior? :) I can’t wait to get to that one! I’m very much looking forward to these. I may try to binge on them over Christmas now that I’m convinced of their quality.

  2. jenclair says:

    I got hooked on Marsh years ago and enjoyed all that I read. Unfortunately, about all that I remember is that I loved them and read all that the library had to offer.

    • Jenny says:

      I’ve been reading Golden Age mysteries for so long that I really can’t believe it’s taken me this long to get to Marsh. I’m so glad I found her now!

  3. Alex says:

    I borrowed all the Alleyn books from a friend of my mother’s when I was a teenager and I remember being completely bowled over by them. I haven’t thought about them since then but you’ve made me wonder if I shouldn’t give them a re-read. I bet our library has got rid of all their copies. Off to the secondhand shops.

    • Jenny says:

      I think these would be very re-readable, especially if you haven’t read them since you were an adolescent! I think all the details would be fresh and you’d enjoy them all over again.

  4. marcia lengnick says:

    One of the most enjoyable “serendipities” on a trip to New Zealand almost 20 years ago was a visit to Nagio Marsh’s home in Christchurch. We were fortunate enough to arrive when the curator was just leaving and he was delighted to show us through the house. It’s preseved perfectly in the style and time period of the author and it would not have surprised us to have her graciously invite us for a spot of tea..Her presence was palpable.
    On a complete different tangent, I am reading Ira Levin’s first mystery, written in the 1950’s before Rosemary’s Baby, A KISS BEFOR DYING..It’s amazing!! I became so frightened and absorbed in the tension that I needed to slam book down and take a sleeping pill to reduce my anxiety!!

    • Jenny says:

      What a wonderful experience! I love visiting the homes of favorite authors.

      Teresa and I have both reviewed A Kiss Before Dying — in fact, I reviewed it just this year, as it was on Teresa’s list for me to read this year! That’s a book created for the phrase “taut thriller”! I hope you enjoy it all the way to the end!

  5. helen says:

    It’s so long since I read them now, I can’t remember them all, this was a particularly good one and I remember vicki’s ‘Surfeit’ fondly too.

    In one novel, I forget which, Nigel (I think) is called a ‘fatuous old bag of tripe’ which became my family’s favourite insult for many a year.

    Have you read any Edmund Crispin?

  6. Christy says:

    I just finished this book tonight. I liked it better than the first. I think I may continue with them, but not in a binge-read fashion. I like Alleyn.

  7. Alex Funke says:

    Well, now…..

    For a very enjoyable encounter with Agatha Troy as portrair painter: Black As He’s Painted.

    For a steeped-in-New Zealand story, though a bit forced as to plot: Died In The Wool.

    For a grand romp with the entire Alleyn family in France, though with a strangely mixed up plot– why did mystery writers so love plotting with “dope?” — Spinsters In Jeopardy. Brilliant evocation of environment.

    For Ms Marsh’s ** very best theatre- based story** with a really superb cast of characters, although if you want really esoteric detection this is not it: Light Thickens. ‘Tis my favourite of all, I think.

    Please keep reading Ngaio Marsh! And Edmund Crispin. And Michael Innes. And Robert van Gulick. And the immortal Dorothy Sayers. Alex

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