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Re: Marsh, "Enter a Murderer" (1935)

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  • MikeBlake@cox.net
    I just won a complete set of Marh s Alleyn books on eBay, so this was a timely message. ... General Spoiler: If you continue to read Marsh, you better get used
    Message 1 of 11 , Aug 11, 2005
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      I just won a complete set of Marh's Alleyn books on eBay, so this was a timely message.

      Wyatt James wrote [excerpts]:
      > It is just plain sloppy plotting, and violates one
      > of the rules of detection (mine, anyway), viz. it is
      > a cheat to the reader to have the prime suspect turn
      > out to be guilty after all.

      General Spoiler: If you continue to read Marsh, you better get used to that.

      > Alleyn is glib, chatty, and semi-erudite --
      > a contrast to the usual Plods of GAD

      In fact, I find him bit too much of these in his early appearances, too Wimsey-ish. As you say, she "hadn't
      yet firmed up Alleyn as a character.

      > except for one flaw, letting a friend and newspaper
      > reporter, the Watson Nigel Bathgate, in on the
      > interview scenes, even taking down statements.

      Ah. "the egregious Bathgate" as someone here termed him. Again, if you continue to read the earlt Alleyns, you better get used to it, the detective has Nigel do his shorthand during interviews in far too many of them.

      > it is of interest to fans who
      > like to see an author develop.

      For some reason, I like reading the earliest ones despite their many flaws, perhaps because the time & place is much more remote than all the later ones.

      In those I start to wonder why none of the recurring characters seem hardly to aged in the forty years after they were introduced. Alleyn and Fox are said, for example, to be 43 and 50-ish in 1939.

      --Mike Blake
    • Wyatt James
      I agree that it is interesting that the prime suspect is guilty after all, but with a rationale or method that is not obvious at first sight. This was a fairly
      Message 2 of 11 , Aug 11, 2005
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        I agree that it is interesting that the prime suspect is guilty after
        all, but with a rationale or method that is not obvious at first
        sight. This was a fairly new wrinkle in GAD fiction of the time, but
        it has since become a cliche, which is what bothered me (sorry, I
        can't put blinkers on and forget 50 years of development of the same
        themes when reading one of the originals -- one can call it
        'Ackroyditis'). I'm not discounting Marsh, just saying she is not my
        favorite, and her earlier books, like Allingham's, were rather crude
        compared with what she wrote later. I'll definitely read the ones
        recommended in this thread.

        Alleyn's flippancy is irritating in this early book, and could not
        have made him a popular chief among his colleagues! Worse, his
        'erudition' is not on the level of Wimsey's or Appleby's, but consists
        of Shakespearean cliches of the 'out out damned spot' sort that any
        competent 9th-grader would know.

        I read Mike Grost's review of Marsh with interest (as I do everything
        on his web site), but don't entirely share his tastes in this
        particular regard. One mistake in going to that site is similar to
        looking up something in the encyclopedia, where you just can't stop
        checking out all the cross-references and ramifications and ending up
        spending an hour or two when you only intended five minutes!

        That flaw you mentioned is something that J.D. Carr habitually
        indulged in -- seemingly irrelevant cliff-hangers that are not really
        explained by the exposition or presented 'fairly' to the reader. To my
        mind, that is his worst fault, even considering 'ginches' and childish
        behavior presented as admirably down to earth....

        --- In GAdetection@yahoogroups.com, Sandy Kozinn <skozinn@o...> wrote:
        > Wyatt James <grobius@s...> wrote:
        >
        > >Ngaio Marsh was one of the top four ladies of the GAD, but I have to
        > >admit I find her the least rewarding of them, after Christie, Sayers,
        > >and Allingham.* Having just reread "Enter a Murderer" (her second
        > >mystery), my opinion is confirmed. It is just plain sloppy plotting,
        > >and violates one of the rules of detection (mine, anyway), viz. it is
        > >a cheat to the reader to have the prime suspect turn out to be guilty
        > >after all.
        >
        > Each to his/her own taste. I'm rather fond of the Alleyn books
        myself, and
        > didn't feel cheated at the obvious suspect being the murderer. By
        the time
        > Marsh was writing, it was a convention, if not a rule, that the obvious
        > suspect should not be guilty. Readers, of course, learned to
        discount the
        > obvious suspect -- so in the end, it turns out to be a surprise
        after all.
        >
        > It's rather like reading a book in which it seems clear that the
        butler did
        > it, being sure that he couldn't have because he was the butler, and
        then
        > having him turn out to be the one who dunnit after all.
        >
        > How the murderer did it and how the crime can be laid to his door
        can be as
        > interesting as figuring out who he is. It all depends on the
        writer. On
        > the Lord Peter list for Dorothy L. Sayers' mysteries, the current
        book is
        > "Unnatural Death," where it become increasingly clear who is likely
        to have
        > done it, but the mystery lies in why the deed was done and even more
        how.
        >
        > The one thing about Marsh that does irritate me is her habit of having
        > Alleyn say, usually to Fox but occasionally to someone else "you
        see, going
        > over the evidence, you must have noticed that...." And then we
        start a new
        > chapter, not being let in on what it was he was pointing out. As a
        general
        > rule, we have been let in to most of the evidence, but not always all.
        >
        > Still, it's rather fun to go through the books in order, watch Marsh
        > develop as a writer, and even watch Alleyn's personal life develop
        as well.
        >
        > Sandy
      • MG4273@aol.com
        Guys, I m purring like a cat after all the nice things people said about my site today. Thank you! My recollection of Enter a Murderer is that the first half
        Message 3 of 11 , Aug 11, 2005
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          Guys, I'm purring like a cat after all the nice things people said about my
          site today. Thank you!
          My recollection of "Enter a Murderer" is that the first half is fascinating.
          Both the investigation of the murder, and everything about theatrical life, is
          really inventive. Then the book runs out of steam. I agree with Wyatt that
          the solution is nothing special. But it's just that kind of book. It's better
          with a novel like "Enter a Murderer" to enjoy its good parts, than to worry over
          its unsuccessful ones. Lots of Marsh books are uneven, IMHO. The best parts
          of "Death of a Fool" or "Colour Scheme" are wildly inventive and memorable -
          utterly unique works that only Ngaio Marsh could have written. But both have
          long dull stretches, too.
          Off hand, can't remember any Marsh novel where the identity of the killer was
          a startling surprise, or the best part of the novel, or jaw-droppingly
          clever. This is very different from Ellery Queen or Agatha Christie, who worked
          overtime to make the Least Likely Person the killer, often showing astonishing
          ingenuity in this department.
          The two Marsh novels I've liked best as a grown-up were "Death In a White
          Tie" and "False Scent". Despite its huge length, "Death In a White Tie" is a
          remakably sustained piece of work. I echo Nick Hay's post that regards it as a
          Marsh classic. Also remember that Douglas Greene is on record as stating it's
          Marsh's best GA-era book (pre-1945). Would agree.
          When I was a kid I loved "A Surfeit of Lampreys" (known here in the States as
          "Death of a Peer"). Keep meaning to go back and re-read this.

          Mike Grost
        • Sandy Kozinn
          ... I think that s the funniest of her books, because of the wonderful characters. It s worth reading just for that family! Sandy
          Message 4 of 11 , Aug 11, 2005
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            >When I was a kid I loved "A Surfeit of Lampreys" (known here in the States as
            >"Death of a Peer"). Keep meaning to go back and re-read this.
            >Mike Grost

            I think that's the funniest of her books, because of the wonderful
            characters. It's worth reading just for that family!

            Sandy
          • Nicholas Fuller
            The two Marsh novels that most impressed me were Death at the Bar and Final Curtain. I found Bar very tedious the first time I read it, but when I read it a
            Message 5 of 11 , Aug 11, 2005
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              The two Marsh novels that most impressed me were Death at the Bar and Final Curtain. I found Bar very tedious the first time I read it, but when I read it a couple of years ago, I thought it was a very well-constructed detective story with an ingenious (and well-hidden) murder method. Curtain has another good method (later used by Christie) and a murderer who is better hidden than normal.

              Nick


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            • Mike Blake
              ... Yes! I was going to point that out as well. Well, Foxkin... said Alleyn, and he explained his reasoning. Do you really think so, sir? inquired Fox
              Message 6 of 11 , Aug 12, 2005
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                > The one thing about Marsh that does irritate me is her
                > habit of having Alleyn say, usually to Fox but occasionally
                > to someone else "you see, going over the evidence, you
                > must have noticed that...."

                Yes! I was going to point that out as well.

                "'Well, Foxkin...' said Alleyn, and he explained his reasoning.
                "'Do you really think so, sir?' inquired Fox politely."

                I like the character of Fox, but think after twenty years of French
                lessons he should have been further along...

                --Mike Blake
              • Sandy Kozinn
                ... Some of us, linguistically challenged, think that Fox s slow progress is very realistic. Sandy
                Message 7 of 11 , Aug 12, 2005
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                  >I like the character of Fox, but think after twenty years of French
                  >lessons he should have been further along...
                  >--Mike Blake

                  Some of us, linguistically challenged, think that Fox's slow progress is
                  very realistic. <g>

                  Sandy
                • Xavier Lechard
                  ... I beg to differ. Alleyn may not be as flamboyant as Wimsey or Campion but he is definetely not a one dimensional character. He is just one of the closest
                  Message 8 of 11 , Aug 13, 2005
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                    --- In GAdetection@yahoogroups.com, "nick hay" <nick@h...> wrote:
                    > To some extent Marsh suffers by comparison to
                    > the rest of the Big 4 - she clearly does not have
                    > Christie's ability to plot, Allingham's range,
                    > Sayers' allusiveness. Alleyn is in comparison
                    > to some degree with Wimsey and most definitely
                    > with Campion a one dimensional character. The
                    > Alleyn/Troy romance can hardly match up to Harriet/Wimsey.
                    > But perhaps all these comparisons are unfair - she has
                    > a voice and a view which are uniquely hers.

                    I beg to differ. Alleyn may not be as flamboyant as Wimsey or Campion
                    but he is definetely not a one dimensional character. He is just one
                    of the closest things to a human being that Golden Age produced,
                    neither an etheral genius nor burdened with eccentricities. Also, his
                    romance with Troy is - in my view - handled in a more mature way that
                    most at the time. I agree, however, that Marsh's gifts for plotting
                    were uneven even though she managed to be solid, even stellar, when
                    given the occasion to (cf. the books Nick mentioned, and the later "A
                    Clutch of Constables")

                    Friendly,
                    Xavier
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