April 14, 2003

The Nursing Home Murder, by Ngaio Marsh

In all of Marsh's long career, she wrote only one novel with a collaborator, and this, her third novel, is it. This is a medical mystery, and appropriately enough her collaborator was a medical doctor named Henry Jellett (not that you'd know that from the edition of the book I have; I found it out on a web page some where, quite a long time ago now, when I was looking for a complete list of Marsh's books).

Full disclaimer: I actually read this before my trip to Australia, and neglected to write a review before I left. Usually I don't let quite such a long time go by before writing about a book, but, well, there were special circumstances.

The set up is simple: a prominent politician, the Home Secretary in fact, suffers an attack of appendicitis just as he's pushing for a new law that will allow the government to pursue revolutionaries with vigor. This was written in 1935, remember; the bomb-throwing anarchist was not forgotten, and the Bolshevik was a real presence in England. The Secretary collapses in the Halls of Parliament and is rushed to a hospital. The operation is a complete success--except that he receives an overdose and dies shortly after the operation. Who gave him the drug? It could have been the surgeon; the Secretary had recently had a sordid affair with the woman the surgeon loves. It could have been one of the nurses; one of them is the woman with whom the victim had the sordid affair, and another is a Bolshevik who laughed at his death. Was it thwarted love? Politics? Or something else....

It's not a bad book; none of Marsh's books disappoint. I enjoyed it. But it was a bit tedious, and if the excursions into Bolshevism aren't as absurd as the ones in A May Lay Dead, they still detract from the picture. There's better to come.

Posted by Will Duquette at April 14, 2003 08:42 PM