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.