This novel is the third of Ngaio Marsh’s mysteries. I know I blaspheme by saying this, but I have never been that fond of most of Agatha Christie’s novels; with a few exceptions I find them too formulaic and two-dimensional to be enjoyable. The best of Christie’s, though, have interesting suspects and exceptional puzzle-making, lifting them out of the common run. The Nursing-Home Murder gives me all of that, and Roderick Alleyn besides.
This book runs along fairly familiar lines. The victim (this time the Home Secretary!) turns out to have at least five or six people with very good reason to kill him, and indeed three who’d recently expressed a formal desire to do so. Easy pickings for the police, you’d think, but in fact it’s more complicated, and in the end a complete reconstruction of the crime, which took place in an operating theatre, is necessary to jog the memories of the witnesses. The book was originally published in 1935, and I think the solution to the crime is especially interesting in that light. But you’ll have to read it yourself to see if you agree with me!
Alleyn is a curiosity to me. Christie, of course, had two private detectives (Poirot having left a career in the Brussels police because of the war.) Campion is a high-born hobbyist and an adventurer. Wimsey, similarly, is of noble blood; others see his crime-solving as mere dilettantism. Alleyn, by contrast, is a gentleman — the right schools, the right family — but he’s gainfully employed by Scotland Yard. This gives him entree into two worlds: upper-class people won’t dismiss him as a servant, but he still has the power to put his very own handcuffs on them if he likes. What was Marsh doing, exactly? It looks as if she was pushing back against a notion that it was a bit low to be part of the police force (see Sherlock Holmes.) Alleyn smartens the place up a bit.
I’m thoroughly enjoying Marsh’s novels. They’re not Dorothy Sayers, but they’re great Golden Age reads. Have you read these? Do you have a favorite?