Plot Summary: An exciting weekend is to be had at Frantock when Sir Hubert Handesley’s house party guests are invited for a game of “Murders.” But what was supposed to be fun entertainment soon turns into a real-life mystery of “Whodunit,” when one of the guests turns up with a knife in his back. Not just any knife—a symbolic knife belonging to an ancient Russian brotherhood. When the butler goes missing and one female guest refuses to give any information, will Chief Inspector Alleyn solve the mystery?
My Book Review: I’d seen a couple of BBC’s Inspector Alleyn mysteries a few years ago and liked them enough to want to at least try the first book in the “Roderick Alleyn Series,” by Ngaio Marsh. There are 32 books in all to this series,– A Man Lay Dead being the author’s very first novel. I’m a big fan of Agatha Christie’s books (what I consider to be “cozy mysteries”), so I was hoping that the trial I was giving Marsh would be as good.
This was a fun light read. First and foremost, I loved the exciting atmosphere throughout the book. A house party at a country manor, a cast of suspicious characters, tangos, a secret Russian brotherhood… all set against the backdrop of 1930’s England! It felt like a game of Clue.
It didn’t take long to read this, although the chapters were a bit long. I did find the dialogue lacking the “crispness” found in Christie’s mysteries (and one of the reasons why I love A.G. so much). But there were a few things I liked better about this first one from Ngaio Marsh. One was that she gives you pretty much all the clues so that it was possible to solve the mystery yourself. SPOILER: I was sure I’d figured out who the villain was, as I assumed it must be the least obvious person. It turns out it was the most obvious person, which makes them the least obvious person!! Great fun! END OF SPOILER. Another thing I liked was that although Inspector Alleyn himself is a little colorless, he isn’t made to be the main character. He is different in that he isn’t like so many other literary detectives who are made to be mysterious gods themselves, with lots of eccentric quirks and who irritate you by holding back all of their information until the very end.
I’m not sure what all the other novels in the series are like. I think Patrick Malahide (who played Alleyn in the movies) “looked” like his character, so I did imagine him as I read the book. I haven’t seen A Man Lay Dead yet, but from reading plot summaries it sounds like it isn’t like the book very much. There has been a radio drama made of this story (posted below).
I should say any mystery lover will enjoy Ngaio Marsh, especially if you love Clue, tango, and costume dramas!