Re: Marsh, "Enter a Murderer" (1935)
- 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 oneGeneral Spoiler: If you continue to read Marsh, you better get used to that.
> 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.
> Alleyn is glib, chatty, and semi-erudite --In fact, I find him bit too much of these in his early appearances, too Wimsey-ish. As you say, she "hadn't
> a contrast to the usual Plods of GAD
yet firmed up Alleyn as a character.
> except for one flaw, letting a friend and newspaperAh. "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.
> reporter, the Watson Nigel Bathgate, in on the
> interview scenes, even taking down statements.
> it is of interest to fans whoFor 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.
> like to see an author develop.
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.
- 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
> didn't feel cheated at the obvious suspect being the murderer. By
> Marsh was writing, it was a convention, if not a rule, that the obvious
> suspect should not be guilty. Readers, of course, learned to
> obvious suspect -- so in the end, it turns out to be a surprise
> It's rather like reading a book in which it seems clear that the
> it, being sure that he couldn't have because he was the butler, and
> 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
> the Lord Peter list for Dorothy L. Sayers' mysteries, the current
> "Unnatural Death," where it become increasingly clear who is likely
> done it, but the mystery lies in why the deed was done and even more
> 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
> 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
> 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
- 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.
>When I was a kid I loved "A Surfeit of Lampreys" (known here in the States asI think that's the funniest of her books, because of the wonderful
>"Death of a Peer"). Keep meaning to go back and re-read this.
characters. It's worth reading just for that family!
- 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.
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[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
> The one thing about Marsh that does irritate me is herYes! I was going to point that out as well.
> habit of having Alleyn say, usually to Fox but occasionally
> to someone else "you see, going over the evidence, you
> must have noticed that...."
"'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...
>I like the character of Fox, but think after twenty years of FrenchSome of us, linguistically challenged, think that Fox's slow progress is
>lessons he should have been further along...
very realistic. <g>
- --- In GAdetection@yahoogroups.com, "nick hay" <nick@h...> wrote:
> To some extent Marsh suffers by comparison toI beg to differ. Alleyn may not be as flamboyant as Wimsey or Campion
> 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.
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")