The Detective Fiction of Ngaio Marsh


“Ngaio Marsh specialises in cunning and novel modes of inflicting death, but it is her generous way to give us this How at once, and to keep us in hue and cry after Who and Why…  Ngaio Marsh’s humour and character dissection, though both can be tender on occasion, are those of one who knows all the answers and does not think much of them.  In fact, I can find no point at which she does not equal the best of the all-rounders.”

– Torquemada, Observer, 23rd January 1938

“Ngaio Marsh goes from strength to strength, and Inspector Roderick Alleyn is well on the way to becoming my favourite gentleman-detective.”

– Nicholas Blake, Spectator, 30th September 1938

“Miss Marsh has earned her place on the Front Bench.  She surrounds the problem with atmosphere, she presents all her clues fairly, she is not too lavish with red herrings, she does not exasperate by choosing the least likely person as the murderer (this fault mars the work of many good practitioners).  Finally, her detective, Alleyn, is intelligent but not so stupidly intelligent as to work in a fourth dimension whither her readers cannot follow him.  He has charm, but does not flourish it like a banner.  The texture of this book is such that it will be a pleasure to read it again.”

– William Blunt, Observer, 12th March 1939


Ngaio Marsh has long been a favourite of mine ever since I borrowed a copy of Surfeit of Lampreys from the local library at the age of thirteen.  I read all of her books (except for Photo-finish) that year, and enjoyed them all.  Marsh was an extremely good all-rounder, excelling in every attribute needed to make a good detective writer.  She had an eye for character (particularly upper-class English eccentrics such as mad Lord Pastern who performs in a brass band or the famous – infamous? – Lampreys) which rivalled Allingham, an ability to lead the reader up the garden path which recalled Christie and a misplaced ingenuity for thinking up novel ways of murdering people (exploding pianos or complicated booby-traps involving fishing-rods and wirelesses) of the sort possessed by Sayers and the Coles.

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