Book Reviews

A Man Lay Dead (Inspector Alleyn #1) by Ngaio Marsh

Written in 1934, this is the first of Marsh’s Inspector Alleyn mysteries: she wrote 32 in total. It’s not brilliant – Marsh is feeling her way, and the ‘big reveal’ is quite ridiculous. However, you can see glimmers of brilliance in her writing. Her first description of Alleyn is an example:

Angela had time for a good long stare at her first detective. Alleyn did not resemble a plain-clothes policeman, she felt sure, nor was he in the romantic manner – white faced and gimlet eyed. He looked like one of her Uncle Hubert’s friends, the sort that they knew would ‘do’ for house-parties. He was very tall, and lean, his hair was dark, and his eyes grey, with corners that turned down. They looked as if they would smile easily, but his mouth didn’t. His hands and his voice are grand, thought Angela, and subconsciously she felt less miserable.

It’s all ‘awfully awfully’ and quite dated, but there is fun to be had in reading this book. It has all the traditional tropes of a Golden Age Crime novel: a house party held in an isolated country estate, populated by an assortment of ‘types’ including an exuberant Russian, where the evening festivities end with a dead body and everyone present is a suspect.

At one point Alleyn asks for a buttonhook to be passed to him and I thought, how many readers in the twenty-first century would know what a buttonhook was? Not too many, I would imagine! But therein lies much of the charm of this book. I will go on to read more Inspector Alleyn mysteries, as I believe Marsh quickly finds her writing legs and the books improve greatly.

Reviewed by Gaby Meares
Murder on a Monday Reading Group

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A Man Lay Dead (Inspector Alleyn #1) by Ngaio Marsh

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