Sunday, November 04, 2007

Death in a White Tie - Ngaio Marsh

First published 1938; cover shown is the 1983 paperback impression from Fontana Books (UK). 256p.

This is one of Marsh's earlier works, when Chief Detective-Inspector Roderick Alleyn's relationship with artist Agatha Troy was still in its early stages. Dashiell Hammett classed Death in a White Tie as the best detective story he had ever read, and while I can't agree with that, I do agree that it has a lot of class. Marsh's occasional comic touches and unique characters are what make her stories so enjoyable to read.

Death in a White Tie features one of the most dangerous crimes - blackmail - and the deadliest: murder. The blackmail recipients are two middle-aged ladies from upper class London society. The murder victim is the highly likeable Lord Robert "Bunchy" Gospell, who had been tracking down the blackmailer on behalf of Scotland Yard

Alleyn takes Bunchy's murder personally; not only had he asked Bunchy to investigate the crimes, Bunchy had also been one of his closest friends. Alleyn sets out to catch the killer and uncover the blackmailer's identity, using clues Bunchy had left and his own knowledge of 1930's London society, which was still a world of debutantes and strict rules of conduct.

Only my second experience of Ngaio Marsh, Death in a White Tie has made me even more determined to read her entire backlog. Roderick Alleyn is the perfect protagonist; while he comes from an aristocratic family, his down-to-earth manner, impeccable manners and subtle sense of humour combine to create a sophisticated character who is nevertheless immensely likeable. I haven't enjoyed a series character so much since Christie's Hercule Poirot, who, despite being a vain, egotistical little man, always manages to amaze and entertain the reader enough for him to remain likeable - and readable.


Gladdog said...

Hello Kay, I am really pleased you liked Ngaio Marsh, I think I told you last time that I was reading "Died in the wool" my first Marsh book and like you was surprisingly delighted by it. I have six others to read; Colour scheme, Scales of justice, Off with his head, False scent, Hand in glove. These have now moved up "to read next ladder" but I am at the moment reading Death of a ghost by the also excellent Margery Allingham. Nice to see Bean chewing the fat.
Sorry to have to correct you on a smallish point but when you talk about 60s bands good though the Who are, plug your ear into Ray Davies and his Kinks.
Yours thankfully Gladdog.(Phil)

The Face at the Window said...

Nice to hear from you Phil! I too have been really pleased to discover that Ngaio Marsh is so interesting to read. I have Black as He's Painted and Surfeit of Lampreys to read yet, then I'll have to stock up on some more of her titles. I'm re-reading an Agatha Christie at the moment, which I'll add to my blog tomorrow. Then I might try a Lionel Davidson, or a Marcia Muller. As for Bean, he loves his raw meat... mostly it's chicken and lamb, but occasionally he gets fish, rabbit, kangaroo and turkey. And thanks for the Kinks recommendation - I have a friend who is a huge Kinks fan. I still think The Who rock though! Kay