Ngaio Marsh was a direct descendant of the de Marescos, piratical Lords of Lundy, and granddaughter of Empire pioneers in New Zealand, where she was born, in Christchurch, on 23 April 1895. She was educated at St. Margaret's College, Christchurch, and Canterbury University College of Art. Marsh's parents, Henry and Rose, had been amateur actors and this interest was passed onto their daughter. Prompted by the appearance of Allan Wilkies's Shakespearean troupe in Christchurch, she wrote a Regency play entitled The Medallion and submitted it to Wilkie. Although he rejected the play, he returned it in person and invited her to join his company. Marsh's first appearance was as Anna, a German spy, in The Luck of the Navy and she remained with Wilkie for two years, at the same time writing verse, articles and fiction for the Christchurch Sun.
Returning to Christchuch, she took up painting before returning to the stage with a local acting company. When the company failed, she returned home and produced and acted in local charity shows. Through these she developed a friendship with a British family who invited her to England; she accepted and lived in London in 1928-33. Here she ran an interior decorating business, operated a gift shop and continued to write, her first novel, which she had begun writing in 1931, being accepted whilst she was in England.
Her mother's illness caused her to return to New Zealand and, after Rose's protracted death, she remained there to care for her father, painting and writing to earn a living. She fell ill and spent three months in hospital undergoing a series of operations. Just as she had used her interest and experiences with theatre and art in her first two novels, her enforced recuperation was put to good use, collaborating with her physician, Dr Henry Jellett, on The Nursing Home Murders.
Marsh toured England and Europe in 1937-38 before returning to New Zealand. During the Second World War she drove an ambulance for the Red Cross and became increasingly involved in theatre work. After the war she returned to England to work with the British Commonwealth Theatre Company and it was primarily for her contributions to theatre that she was appointed a Dame of the British Empire in 1966. For the rest of her life she split her time between England and New Zealand, and spent her last few years living in Christchurch before her death on 18 February 1982.
Police detective Roderick Alleyn was the hero of her books, an Oxford graduate and formerly with the British diplomatic service, which he gave up for undisclosed reasons. Intelligent and resourceful, he was to star in all 32 of her mystery novels.
Penguin 210, 1939, 216pp.
——, 2nd imp., 1949, 185pp.
——, 3rd imp., 1955.
——, 4th imp., 1959, 186pp, 2/6. Cover: design
Fontana 389, 1960, 191pp.
Fontana, 4th imp., 1968, 191pp.
Fontana 0006-15591-X, 1979, 191pp.
——, 13th imp., n.d., 191pp, £3.50. Cover by unknown
——, 1994, 191pp.
HarperCollins 0006-51251-8, 2000, 176pp.
However fearful the thought of murder may be, and however horrible it is in fact, murder does exercise a strange fascination over men's minds so that paradoxically they are quite ready to see it enacted on the stage or screen, or even to take part in a mock murder as a party game.
__Sir Hubert Handesley was famous for his house-parties; indeed he had every right to be, for he planned these occasions with as much care and foresight as a producer would the presentation of a new play. Nigel Bathgate considered himself rather a lucky young man, when, through his cousin Charles, who was also to be at the party, he secured an invitation to one of these week-ends.
__He was not to be disappointed, for this time the host had planned a game of murder, which was to be different from the one usually played at such parties. One of the guests would be secretly chosen as the murderer and within a given period of time would have to 'get his man' by tapping him on the shoulder and telling him that he was 'murdered'. This was to be done, of course, at a suitable moment when the others were not present, and to ensure that he would not be found out, all the lights would be extinguished for a few moments after the 'murder' had been committed.
__And this indeed took place, and only when the lights flashed on again and everybody came rushing down the Hall to see who had been 'killed', did they discover Charles on the floor—with a knife through his back.
__The inquest which was to follow the game, and in which the other guests were to take part, was now taken over in deadly earnest by Chief Detective Inspector Alleyn of the Yard—and the consequences of that game were to be more terrible than Sir Hubert could have imagined when he planned his house-party with such zest.
Penguin 152, 1938, 186pp.
——, 2nd imp., 1949, 186pp, 1/6. Cover: design
Fontana 845, 1964, 191pp.
Fontana, 1968. Cover: photo
Fontana 0006-13551-X, 6th imp., Sep 1974, 191pp, 35p. Cover by Philip Hood
Fontana, 8th imp., 1979, 191pp.
Fontana 0006-15650-9, 1986, 191pp.
——, 13th imp., n.d., 191pp, £3.50. Cover by unknown
HarperCollins 0006-51252-6, 2001, 176pp.
There are times when even the most sophisticated theatre-goer is gripped by the drama of the stage, and wishes—unconsciously perhaps—that it were not quite so life-like. It is good then to be comforted by the reminder that it is only play acting, and they do not mean it really. Even then uncomfortable moments can be passed by the audience, as well as the actors. The border line between actuality and acting seems too close, and almost too tempting not to be true.
__Such a moment Inspector Alleyn and his reporter friend Nigel Bathgate were to spend as moments of a theatre audience. This was to be a more than usually uncomfortable moment. It was frankly unpleasant. They had gone to see a thriller called The Rat and The Beaver. This, as Nigel explained to Felix Gardener, one of the principals whom they had gone to see before the show, was in the nature of a 'busman's holiday' for Alleyn. Like good play-goers, they refrained from asking Felix who the villain really was, but they had witnessed a little scene in Stephanie Vaughan's dressing room, when another actor, Arthur Surbonadier, had swayed into the room half drunk and in anger, and despair. There seemed to be something more than back-stage bickering, and so they were aware, as the action of the play unfolded itself, that the actors felt their parts, and when the Rat (alias Felix Gardener) faced the Beaver (alias Arthur Surbonadier) they knew that both lived the part, and that murder was really in their hearts. And murder was done in full view of the audience. And so it was that Alleyn was called in to solve the mystery of the murder he had seen committed with his own eyes.
Penguin 355, 1941, 175pp.
——, 2nd imp., 1949, 233pp, 1/6.
Fontana 563, 1961, 190pp.
——, 2nd imp., Apr 1963, 2/6.
Fontana 1097, 1965, 190pp.
Fontana 0006-12396-1, 4th imp., 1970, 190pp.
Fontana 0006-14404-7, 5th imp., Dec 1976, 190pp, 65p. Cover by Justin Todd
Fontana 0006-16164-2, 1981
——, Xth imp., 1992
HarperCollins 0006-51253-4, 1999, 187pp.
"I assure you that if the opportunity presented itself I should have no hesitation in putting you out of the way."
__A day later Sir Derek O'Callaghan, Home Secretary, lay dying after an emergency operation performed by the very man who had uttered this threat...
__Blatant murder—or a more cunningly contrived crime?
Motive, so we are told, is one of the first things the police try to establish in a murder case. Once the motive is established then the identity of the possible murderer is also established. This is all very well as far as it goes, but becomes much more complicated when it is discovered that several people had good reason to want to murder the same man.
__The death of Sir Derek O'Callaghan, a member of the Cabinet, had shocked the country; he was, as people said, the only 'strong man' in the Government. Therefore it followed that he had many enemies in public life and in the life that is not so public, that is to say among those who engage in subversive activities. Nor was this all. The police find out that the surgeon who operated on Sir Derek had been his friend until a few weeks before his death, when they had quarrelled about a woman. a woman moreover who had been present at the operation as one of the nurses.
__A host of clues and motives obscure and obvious present themselves to Chief Inspector Alleyn and his redoubtable assistant Detective Inspector Fox, whose efforts to unravel the mystery are at first baffled because of this, and eventually crowned with success not so much as by finesse as by a fluke.
Penguin 249, 1940, 286pp.
——, 2nd imp., 1940; 3rd imp., 1940; 4th imp., 1941; 5th imp., 1945; 6th imp., 1949; 7th imp., 1952; 8th imp., 1957, 2/6.
Fontana 759, 1962, 222pp.
Fontana, 2nd imp., Apr 1968, 222pp.
Fontana 0006-13908-6, 3rd imp., Apr 1975, 222pp, 45p. Cover by Philip Hood
——, 4th imp., Jan 1976.
Fontana 0006-15744-0, 5th imp., Jun 1979, 222pp. Cover photo by Graham Miller
——, Xth imp., 1994.
HarperCollins 0006-51254-2, 2001, 256pp.
There are many strange places of worship in London. The blank face of a Cockney Sunday masks all sorts of curious activities. If, for instance, a few years ago, you had gone down the King's Road towards Knocklatchers Row maybe you would have chanced on just such a queer sect intent on their devotions at the House of the Sacred Flame.
__Father Garnette did not fail his congregation there in the supply of excitement and outlet. His services were long, peculiar, even spectacular.
__On the very afternoon of her death, Cara Quayne was to have been initiated as the Chosen Vessel. The ceremony was in fact already proceeding, when, after drinking of some special cup necessary to the rites being performed, she dropped dead. For a moment the others thought she was in a trance, then that she had been so uplifted by her experience that she had died in ecstasy. They were appalled when they discovered that the cup had been poisoned, and that she had been murdered.
__This immediately provoked outbursts of jealousy, wild accusations, and even petulance on the part of the other members of that hitherto austere sect. It provided Nigel Bathgate, a chance spectator at this ceremony, with several odd clues which he did not fail to pass on to Chief Inspector Alleyn, when that eminent representative of the Yard arrived on the scene to unravel one of the weirdest and tightest problems of his career.
Penguin 253, 1940
——, 2nd imp., 1940; 3rd imp., 1949; 4th imp., 1949; 5th imp., 1955; 6th imp., 1958, 240pp, 2/6.
Fontana 503, 1961, 253pp, 2/6.
Fontana 930, 2nd imp., 1964.
Fontana 0006-14525-6, 1977, 223pp.
Fontana 0006-16152-9, 1980.
HarperCollins 0006-51255-0, 1999, 256pp.
The smashing of a bottle of champagne is almost invariably connected with the celebration of some special occasion such as the launching of a ship or the roasting of an honoured guest. By a horrible coincidence the magnum of champagne that was to be broached at the beginning of Carolyn Dacres' birthday party held on the stage at Middleton's Theatre Royal, New Zealand, was the direct cause of tragedy, for it crashed down of the head of Alfred Meyer, host at the party—and husband of Carolyn. Everyone knew how for hours Alfred had superintended the special contrivance of a pulley which was to hang above the stage and attached to which was the magnum. At a given moment when a delighted Carolyn cut the cord the pulley and bottle were to come down to earth. A counterweight would ensure that this ceremony would go off without a hitch. But someone else determined to ensure the hitch—and disaster. It required all the well-tried ingenuity of Chief Inspector Alleyn to unravel not simply the tangle of motives and mysteries that inevitably are connected with such a crime, but also to pierce the web of petty jealousies and frustrations that are bound to crop up in such a touring company. To Alleyn, who had come to New Zealand for his health, this was to be more than the usual change of scene the doctor prescribes. It was his busman's holiday.
Penguin 353, 1941, 223pp.
——, 2nd imp., 1949; 3rd imp., 1952; 4th imp., 1957; 5th imp., 1959, 2/6.
Fontana 729, 1962, 256pp, 2/6. Cover by Eileen Walton
——, 2nd imp.
Fontana 0006-14040-8, 3rd imp., Sep 1975, 256pp, 50p. Cover by Philip Hood
——, 4th imp., Dec 1978, 256pp, 80p. [cover as above]
Fontana 0006-16529-X, 1982, 256pp.
——, 11th imp., Dec 1989, 256pp, £2.99. Cover by unknown
——, Xth imp., 1990; Xth imp., 1994.
HarperCollins 0006-51256-9, 2000, 304pp.
There is sometimes a macabre pleasure in planning a murder, in going into every detail as to how the victim can be killed beyond any possible doubt. It can even be rather amusing to try to prove—theoretically, at least—that such a violent deed can be perpetrated without the criminal being found out.
__The group of art students gathered in Agatha Troy's studio spent just such a morning discussing how a model could be killed by the simple expedient of placing her in a certain pose in which she would certainly be stabbed, quickly, and one might almost say unobtrusively. The rub that detracts from such ghoulish enjoyment is of course the fact that unless you are prepared to run grave risks, the foolproof murder remains simply an idea. In this case, however, it gave someone the very idea that was wanted, for this person decided that it would be the best way of eliminating little Sonia Gluck—the model herself—who, although exceedingly good to behold, was vastly provoking to live with. Whoever planned the murder would, with a little judicious manipulation, not actively have to carry it out. The 'props' and an unfortunate third party would do the rest.
__Such is the situation that in fact develops; such is the problem, at once neat and complex, that confronts Inspector Alleyn. The mystery is further complicated by the students themselves, who exploit this dramatic situation to indulge in histrionics that are as baffling as they are amusing.
Penguin 450, Mar 1944.
——, 2nd imp., 1949, 319pp.
Fontana 388, 1960, 256pp, 2/6. Cover by John L. Baker
Fontana, 4th imp., 1968, 256pp.
Fontana 0006-14523-X, 1977, 256pp.
Fontana 0006-16797-7,1983, 256pp.
HarperCollins 0006-51257-7, 1999, 348pp.
Death by suffocation is much quicker than most people imagine. Whoever murdered Lord Robert Gospell ('Bunchy' to his friends) must have calculated on this, for he knew that death would have to be quick enough and quiet enough to enable him to surprise and smother Bunchy in a brief taxi ride together—and then emerge dressed as his victim whilst the taxi continued its journey to deposit the 'other passenger'. This much Chief Inspector Alleyn can deduce when he proceeds to probe the mystery of his friend's murder. For Bunchy was his friend, and in a way he felt partly responsible for Bunchy's death, because he had been helping Alleyn privately in trying to establish the identity of a particularly loathsome blackmailer. In fact Bunchy was about to go on to Scotland Yard the very hour that he was murdered, and all that eventually reached Alleyn was—his corpse.
__Several people might have done it for very obvious reasons, but unfortunately the motives were almost too obvious to bear examination. For instance, Bunchy's young nephew Donald had quarrelled with his uncle about his debts, and Donald was his uncle's heir. It might be Captain Withers, about whom Bunchy knew more than Withers liked to think. It might be General Halcut-Hackett, who believed that his wife was blackmailed by Bunchy. It might indeed have been any one of the eight hundred guests who attended Lady Carrados' ball on the night of the murder.
Penguin 705, 1949, 287pp.
Fontana 20, (Mar) 1954, 2/-.
Fontana 640, 1962, 2/6.Cover by John Keay
Fontana 1459, 1967.
Fontana 978-0006-13053-6, 3rd imp., 1972, 256pp. Cover: photo
Fontana 0006-15250-3, 6th imp., 1978, 256pp.
Fontana 0006-16759-4, 1983.
Penguin 706, 1949, 285pp.
——, 2nd imp., 1955, 285pp, 2/6.
Fontana 20, 1954, 253pp.
——, 2nd imp., 1956, 252pp.
Fontana 1300, 4th imp., 1966.
Fontana 0006-12598-0, 1971, 253pp.
——, Xth imp., 1982, 253pp.
HarperCollins 0006-51235-6, 2000, 287pp.
'You know,' said Harper, warming a little, 'it's a proper mystery, this case. Know what I mean, most cases depend on routine. Boil 'em down and it's routine that does the trick as a general rule. May do it here, but all the same this is a teaser. I'm satisfied it wasn't accident, but I can't prove it.'
__So spoke Superintendant Nicholas Harper of the Illington Police to Chief Inspector Alleyn of Scotland Yard. When a man dies suddenly and horribly simply because another fellow pricks him with a dart in a friendly match—with everyone in the pub watching—and it then transpires that the dart was envenomed with prussic acid, it is a problem.
__For those darts were brand new, opened that very evening, and the game was the result of a casual encounter as such matches often are. What made the whole thing rather sinister, though, was the fact that all those present knew that a bottle of the poison had been kept in the small first-aid cupboard.
__Abel Pomeroy, the publican, was in a fine state of anger and outrage, particularly at the insidious remarks made by George Nark. As for Robert Legge, who had thrown the dart, he became very jittery indeed, poor man. Then there were the two friends of the murdered man, both knowing they were to inherit his fortune. There was motive enough. But no chance, as far as the police could tell, for them—or for anyone—to have tampered with the fatal dart.
__As Harper said: 'It's a fair teaser.'
Penguin 1100, 1955, 303pp.
——, 2nd imp., 1959, 303pp, 2/6.
Fontana 538, 1961, 284pp. Cover by John L. Baker?
Fontana 849, 1963.
Fontana 1457, 1967.
Fontana, 5th imp., 1969, 284pp.
Penguin 0140-01100-5, 1977, 303pp.
Fontana 0006-16810-8, 1984, 284pp.
HarperCollins 0006-51236-4, 1999, 304pp.
Penguin 704, 1949, 316pp.
——, 2nd imp., 1951.
——, 3rd imp., 1954, 316pp, 2/-.
Fontana 259, 1958, 285pp.
——, 3rd imp., 1968.
Fontana 0006-13910-8, 6th imp., Apr 1975, 285pp, 45p. Cover by Philip Hood
Fontana 0006-16902-3, 1979, 285pp.
——, Xth imp., 1984, 285pp.
HarperCollins 0006-51237-2, 1999, 346pp.
Everyone has a secret fear of which even his closest friends know or suspect nothing. Jonathan Royal's private hell was the fear of boredom. He was elderly, unmarried, well-off, secure in his fine house and large estate. But he was bored; he must devise new means of distraction. he had his interests, of course, such as supporting surrealist plays; indeed he had done much to establish the reputation of Aubrey Mandrake, the poetic dramatist.
__And it was to Aubrey that he explained his latest idea. This was his invitation to seven friends whom he knew were each hateful of one another. That is to say, not everyone hated everyone else, but no single member of this party would be on good terms with all the rest—only Aubrey himself, who knew none of them, would be an 'outsider', so to speak.
__The seven friends would arrive the following day at Jonathan's home to spend the week-end. None of them knew of the impending presence of the others, and once assembled it would be very difficult to separate. The winter was severe; they would have to stay indoors, remote from other diversions. Jonathan himself would blandly act as host, assiduously keeping the party in being.
__It would be the greatest fun to watch their reactions, to see how they would have to settle down to the enforced communal isolation. it might well give Aubrey an idea for a play. It would, in fact, be a play in itself, as Jonathan delightedly pointed out, with Aubrey as audience.
__And a play it was to be, with the 'curtain' coming down on the miserable exit of a murderer. But that last act was not to be written by Jonathan, but by Inspector Alleyn, who had been called in to unravel the 'plot'.
Collins White Circle (Crime Club) 176c, n.d.
Fontana 461, 1960, 256pp, 2/6. Cover by John L. Baker
Fontana 1017, 1964, 256pp.
——, 4th imp., 1969, 256pp.
Fontana 0006-13796-2, 6th imp., Dec 1974, 256pp, 40p. Cover by Philip Hood
Fontana 0006-16376-9, 1981, 313pp
——, Xth imp., 1986.
HarperCollins 0006-51238-0, 1999, 320pp.
The crime took place at the height of World War II on the New Zealand coast, where someone had plainly been helping the Germans sink British ships.
__The murderer had lured his victim into a pool of boiling mud at a run-down spa.
__The victim was suspected by many of being a German agent. But he was so unpleasant that he could have been killed for many reasons.
__Among those who could have done it were several dubious Englishmen and a whole village of Maoris, none of whom were sorry that the victim was dead.