The Nursing-Home Murder

nursing home murderThis 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?

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18 Responses to The Nursing-Home Murder

  1. realthog says:

    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.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you, Jenny, for saying this. I feel exactly the same way. Of course there are some out-of-the-rut Christies, but for me most of them are like the bread in a sandwich: necessary, wholesome an’ all, but nothing as compared to an Allingham or a Marsh. My favorite by the latter is, I think, still A Surfeit of Lampreys, a book that I read when just a child, on the family holiday somewhere in Scotland, and fell ill: the poxy little hotel where we stayed had exactly one book that wasn’t, I dunno, Sermons of John Knox. Reluctantly I started to read it . . . and ever afterward have adored Marsh’s work. Alleyn’s good, Fox fine, but I think it’s Try who really pulls everything in the series together; I love the way that she’s obviously had A Past (daring at the time, oh yes) yet Alleyn doesn’t care.

  2. Alex Funke says:

    Oh, Yes! “Opening Night,” which has a most endearing young woman (a New Zealander, at that!) as the protagonist cum heroine.

    And, late in Ngaio Marsh’s writing career, “Light Thickens,” which is beautiful because it echoes her first-hand knowledge of the theatre backstage.

    I Love your reviews! Keep on! Cheers, Alex

    • Jenny says:

      Thanks! And I am enjoying these recommendations. I’ve already read one of her theatre-based mysteries, so I see the charm.

  3. magistra says:

    Ngaio Marsh is my favorite mystery writer after Dorothy Sayers. My favorites are her theater mysteries–Enter a Murderer, Night at the Vulcan, Killer Dolphin–and A Clutch of Constables, where Troy Alleyn takes the lead. I’ve read them all at least twice and am currently in the middle of rereading them again.

  4. Carol S says:

    Here’s another in agreement re Christie and I too far prefer Allingham and Marsh. I found Ngaio Marsh’s memoirs in the bnb I stayed in for a few days in Wellington NZ last year. It was so very cold that I retreated to bed early each night to read it and with great pleasure. She was a New Zealander and very involved in the theatre there. I’ve intended to reread her works ever since as I loved them when younger and at that time wanted more finding her characters so interesting and needing more space than a thriller could give them. Her evocation of place was so precise and good that it has stayed with me too. I don’t know if I’d feel the same decades on, maybe that’s why I haven’t begun to reread yet, not wanting to spoil the memory..
    Oh And I thoroughly enjoyed my daytimes in Wellington.

  5. Denise says:

    I watched some on the TV as a child and wasn’t quite taken by it so never ready any of the books! It’s good to have some “best of” recommendations here. Just downloaded a sample of Opening Night and it’s charming! Very high standard of writing. I’m in the mood for a late night so I think I’ve decided what I’ll be doing now…

    • Jenny says:

      I’ve never seen the Alleyn mysteries on TV, for some reason. I finally decided that Marsh was a real gap in my Golden Age mystery reading, and I haven’t regretted starting with her at all!

      • Denise says:

        I’m well into it now. I can see why Poirot and Miss Marple with their OTT characteristics are TV Gold. Whereas the charm of the Marsh is very much in the subtleties of observing what it is to be that character.

      • Jenny says:

        That’s a good observation. I think, too, that Wimsey is so beloved that it’s difficult to get just the right cast. I liked the Petherbridge/Walters version, but I knew others who hated it.

  6. Lisa says:

    I started reading these after watching some of the TV adaptations. I had a feeling I would like the books more, which turned out to be the case. I think the actor playing Alleyn was particularly miscast! I think my favorite is Death in a White Tie, though there’s a sadness to the story.

    • Jenny says:

      I’ll keep my eye out for that one. I’ve been reading them pretty slowly because my library has very few and I need to get them through ILL.

  7. jenclair says:

    Allingham,Sayers, Marsh, and Josephine Tey are my favorites from the Golden Age.

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