March 07, 2003

A Man Lay Dead, by Ngaio Marsh

I first discovered Ngaio Marsh a couple of years ago. I usually like to read an author's books in the order they were written, but as Marsh wrote lots of books, and as the inside cover of the current edition list them all in alphabetical order, I didn't bother; instead, I just grabbed three every time I went to the book store, and over a period of some months I'd read them all.

Now, I'm off on a business trip to Australia in a couple of weeks, and I've been saving new, unread books for the flight. So I was looking for something to read last week, and decided that it would be fun to start with Marsh's first book and read them in order, just to see how her writing and her characters evolve. Not all at once, mind you; I'll be reading other things as well.

So, A Man Lay Dead is her first book; it not only marks the first appearance of Inspector Roderick Alleyn, but also that of his friend and occasional Watson, reporter Nigel Bathgate, and of Nigel's sweetie Angela North. And frankly, it's only the presence of the three of them that really save this book.

It's not a bad book, by any means; I enjoyed it. But it's a typical country house mystery, nothing too special there, and the subplot involving a mysterious Russian secret society makes it sound just a little too much like one of Bertie Wooster's favored brand of pulp thriller for comfort.

But if the plot and the perpetrators don't shine, Nigel and Angela do; and while Inspector Alleyn isn't quite himself yet, he gets the job done.

Posted by Will Duquette at March 7, 2003 05:10 PM