British, crime fiction, mystery

A Man Lay Dead

December 29, 2021

This is the first Roderick Alleyn mystery novel by Ngaio (“Nigh-O”) Marsh, published in 1934. Marsh is considered one of the great “Queens of Crime” from the Golden Age of crime fiction, along with Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Margery Allingham. To me, this was the perfect clue-puzzle beautifully demonstrating one of the “rules” of detective fiction from the period, fair play for the reader. Agatha Christie’s mysteries are, to me, less engaging (or well written). While I love her writing style, Sayers’ plots make me feel stupid. I’ve not read Allingham. Marsh’s novel is lucid and witty, the clues are identifiable, the false suspects and red herrings are engaging.

The premise is a weekend party at a country house where the host organizes a game of “Murder” only one of the guests really gets murdered. Then the rest of the house party guests and house staff have to stick around while Alleyn searches for clues and interviews everyone. There’s a thick “Russian element” to the story–always fun–though the rendering of the way one Russian character speaks English with an accent got to be pretty irritating (because it just sounded inaccurate). Also there’s an unfortunate and unneeded instance of the N-word occurring–why did this happen so much in 1930s mysteries? I taught And Then There Were None last term and had a hard time discussing with students the original title–or why it took so long for publishers to alter the title and the nursery rhyme in newer editions.

Anyway, I finished this in a weekend and immediately went on ABE books to buy more Marsh novels–a new favorite escape!

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