Book Review: A Man Lay Dead by Ngaio Marsh

Posted June 15, 2022 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews / 0 Comments

Book Review: A Man Lay Dead by Ngaio Marsh

I received this book for free from my own shelves in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

A Man Lay Dead by Ngaio Marsh
Genres: Mystery, Historical
Published by Felony & Mayhem Press on November 16, 2011
Pages: 208
Format: eBook
Source: my own shelves

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Also by this author: Dead Water, Killer Dolphin, Enter a Murderer, The Nursing Home Murder, Death in Ecstasy, Artists in Crime, Death in a White Tie, Overture to Death, Death at the Bar, Surfeit of Lampreys, Death and the Dancing Footman, Died in the Wool, Swing, Brother, Swing

First in the Inspector Roderick Alleyn historical mystery series and revolving around a Scotland Yard chief detective inspector in the England of the 1930s.

My Take

Marsh introduces Alleyn and his future “accomplice”, Nigel Bathgate. Marsh uses third person global subjective point-of-view, as we experience events from the perspectives of a variety of characters. Nigel’s perspective is primary, as he is one of the guests; Alleyn’s perspective is a close second.

Two rival explorers of mystery, the inspector and the journalist, compete and cooperate, building a relationship that will extend into future stories.

Charles may be a nice cousin, but he’s a scummy guy. I would expect loyalty when planning on marriage. The complacent Wilde is simmering underneath. While Bathgate is fascinated by the detecting, he’s squeamish about the dirtier aspects of investigation.

It’s a romp through murder filled with red herrings in a country house whose guests are quite the assortment. Traps are set in the house and on the grounds with numerous trips up to London. Secret relationships abound.

The prose is a fun combination of flirtation, worry, and Alleyn’s intelligence. And it’s Alleyn’s explanation at the end that is so fascinating about the murderer’s cleverness.

The Story

It starts with a house party and the parlor game of Murder with five guests.

Until the fun ends with a real murder, and Scotland Yard’s Inspector Roderick Alleyn arrives to find a complete collection of alibis, a missing butler, and an intricate puzzle of betrayal and sedition.

The Characters

Chief Detective Inspector Roderick Alleyn is with Scotland Yard although he had originally been in the Diplomatic Service. Christina Alleyn, a chemist, is his cousin.

Scotland Yard
Inspector-Detective Boys. Detective-Sergeant Bailey is the fingerprint expert. Detective-Sergeant Smith is in charge of the camera. Police Constable Bunce. Alfred Bliss is one of Alleyn’s. Mr Sumiloff has been working with Alleyn on the Russian side of the case. Inspector Fisher is with the local police. Dr Young is the local divisional surgeon.

The poor Nigel Bathgate is a journalist with the Clarion. Charles Rankin is his 20-years-older cousin.

Frantock is . . .
. . . the country estate of Sir Hubert Handesley, a former diplomat and current cabinet minister with a fascination for historic fighting tools, has unique and delightfully original house-parties. Vassily Vassilyevitch has been Sir Hubert’s butler for the past twenty years. Mary is the between-maid. The intelligent Ethel is the second housemaid. Roberts is the pantry man. Stimson is the third gardener; his daughter is Sissy.

His guests this weekend include Dr Foma Tokareff; the archeologist Arthur Wilde and his wife, Marjorie; Angela North is Sir Hubert’s niece (Florence is her maid); and, Rosamund Grant.

The Frantock Arms is an inn in Little Frantock.

Jamison is Bathgate’s boss at the Clarion. Mr Benningden is the Rankin family solicitor. Kuprin leads a seditious group, the Brotherhood; Alexis Andrevitch, Erik Yansen (a Scandinavian), and Krasinski (a Pole) are also members. Masters is the Wildes’ butler. Miss Sandilands is a sewing maid who occasionally does work for Marjorie. Joyce is a friend of Rosamund’s.

The Cover and Title

The cover is an Art Deco style with a grayed-blue background and white ripples angling up and out to the side in front of a stylized country house in a slightly darker blue with all the lights lit up. At the top is the title in a gradated white to blue. The author’s name is very deco in a combination of gray and deep blue with a spread-out white shadow against a shaped pale blue banner. At the very bottom is a paler gray blue banner with the series info in white.

The title is accurate, for A Man Lay Dead.

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