RogerBW's Blog

Death on the Air and Other Stories, Ngaio Marsh 03 June 2017

1989 collection of short mystery stories, some featuring Roderick Alleyn.

Last year I read Allingham's Mr Campion and Others, and found it something of a failure, with stories that became repetitious and failed to develop enough character to be really interesting. This volume is a rather more effective approach to the anthology of short mystery stories, with more varied plots; while there still isn't really room to develop characters in detail, they feel as though given space they might do more than their stock roles indicate.

Roderick Alleyn and Portrait of Troy are Marsh's descriptions of the geneses of these characters; I've found them attached to other novels in the series. (Marsh claims that Sayers fell in love with Wimsey, and that she didn't with Alleyn; I don't find either part of this entirely convincing.)

Death on the Air (1936) has a domestic tyrant killed by an ingenious and perhaps over-complex scheme; there's an obvious false lead, and things are wrapped up neatly as (characteristically of early Alleyn) the murderer is provoked into a confession.

Dr Meadows looked at the Inspector. You agree with me, it seems. Do you suspect—?"

"Suspect? I'm the least suspicious man alive. I'm merely being tidy."

I Can Find My Way Out (1946) should be read between Surfeit of Lampreys (which introduces a significant character) and Opening Night (which gives away how this one was done); it's a murder at a theatre which uses many of the same stock roles as Opening Night would expand on, and since I happened to read Opening Night before this it seemed rather flat.

The stage manager returned to the set where he encountered his assistant. "What's biting him?" asked the assistant.

"He wanted a dressing room with a fire."

"Only natural,' said the ASM nastily. ‘He started life reading gas meters."

Chapter And Verse: the Little Copplestone Mystery (1973) has mysterious notations in a family bible leading to Alleyn's uncovering of a serial killer. And that's it for Alleyn in this book.

The Hand in the Sand (1953) is an account of real life, with possible insurance fraud; Marsh explains how she'd have liked to use it in a novel, but part of its charm is the mystery and incompleteness of the story.

The Cupid Mirror (1972) is a short anecdote of praiseworthy murder in plain sight, in the context of an excellent dinner.

A Fool About Money (1973) is a non-mystery anecdote, a trivial event which might be drawn from the life.

Morepork (1979) has a variety of unsympathetic people on a camping trip deep in the wilds of New Zealand, and a method of catching the killer that might have been more remarkable in earlier decades.

Moonshine (pre-1936) is a very early piece concerning a child and Father Christmas.

Evil Liver (1975) is a script for Crown Court concerning a lethal falling-out between neighbours. Because of the programme's format (the jury of non-actors would be expected to make their own decision during recording), there are two abbreviated endings, but it's pretty clear well before that point what has been happening.

My Poor Boy (1959) is an explanation of the life of an author, written in the form of a response to a hopeful novelist: in short, it's hard work.

This is a very mixed bag, and the mysteries are better than the non-mysteries, but everything here works, and it never quite becomes formulaic (though a clue to one story is given by the resolution of an earlier one). Recommended.

See also:
Mr Campion and Others, Margery Allingham

Previous in series: Death and the Dancing Footman | Series: Roderick Alleyn | Next in series: Colour Scheme

Comments on this post are now closed. If you have particular grounds for adding a late comment, comment on a more recent post quoting the URL of this one.

Tags 1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s 2010s 3d printing action advent of code aeronautics aikakirja anecdote animation anime army astronomy audio audio tech aviation base commerce battletech beer boardgaming book of the week bookmonth chain of command children chris chronicle church of no redeeming virtues cold war comedy computing contemporary cornish smuggler cosmic encounter coup covid-19 crime crystal cthulhu eternal cycling dead of winter doctor who documentary drama driving drone ecchi economics en garde espionage essen 2015 essen 2016 essen 2017 essen 2018 essen 2019 essen 2022 essen 2023 existential risk falklands war fandom fanfic fantasy feminism film firefly first world war flash point flight simulation food garmin drive gazebo genesys geocaching geodata gin gkp gurps gurps 101 gus harpoon historical history horror hugo 2014 hugo 2015 hugo 2016 hugo 2017 hugo 2018 hugo 2019 hugo 2020 hugo 2021 hugo 2022 hugo 2023 hugo 2024 hugo-nebula reread in brief avoid instrumented life javascript julian simpson julie enfield kickstarter kotlin learn to play leaving earth linux liquor lovecraftiana lua mecha men with beards mpd museum music mystery naval noir non-fiction one for the brow opera parody paul temple perl perl weekly challenge photography podcast politics postscript powers prediction privacy project woolsack pyracantha python quantum rail raku ranting raspberry pi reading reading boardgames social real life restaurant reviews romance rpg a day rpgs ruby rust scala science fiction scythe second world war security shipwreck simutrans smartphone south atlantic war squaddies stationery steampunk stuarts suburbia superheroes suspense television the resistance the weekly challenge thirsty meeples thriller tin soldier torg toys trailers travel type 26 type 31 type 45 vietnam war war wargaming weather wives and sweethearts writing about writing x-wing young adult
Special All book reviews, All film reviews
Produced by aikakirja v0.1