After my recent review of Money in the Morgue, the latest novel by Ngaio Marsh, which was finished by Stella Duffy, I decided that it was high time I did a top five list for my favourite Inspector Alleyn novels.
Cerebral, scholarly and dependable, Alleyn is a strong, proud policeman who is committed to solving often impossibly complicated crimes. Class, race and sexuality are all explored, with Marsh, a renowned New Zealand novelist, using her detective books to make numerous statements. I was an avid Marsh reader when at University, and over the years I have found many favourites, which I am really happy to share with you! Perfect for Golden Age fans looking for something new, or an avid Marsh fan looking to see what I think, there is something for everyone in my list of my favourite books featuring this stoic, intellectual detective.
5. Opening Night: Marsh is renowned for her novels focusing on the theatrical market, and Opening Night is a really good example of this. There’s a murder of a actor backstage on opening night at a London theatre, leaving Inspector Alleyn to look into the crime. Marsh understands the competitive, gossip-ridden world of theatre intimately, and as such her theatrical novels are works of genius that readers, whether they are fans or new arrivals to the bandwagon, will enjoy.
4. Vintage Murder: The leading lady of a travelling theatre troupe circumnavigating New Zealand is suspected of killing her husband at her own birthday party. With Inspector Alleyn in attendance, something goes horribly wrong during the celebrations and her pudgy, not particularly attractive husband and theatre manager is bludgeoned to death is particularly theatrical style. As Alleyn digs deeper into the victim’s marital and theatrical lives, he finds a tangled web of secrets, lies and affairs of the heart that baffles and mystifies, keeping the reader guessing until the very end.
3. Death And The Dancing Footman: Partially set in my native and beloved Dorset, this fascinating novel portrays a malicious millionaire’s attempt to cause chaos by inviting a selection of ardent enemies to a house party for his own amusement. When the fun stops and a member of the party turns to murder, Alleyn is called in to find the culprit from among this seedy cast of characters and draw out the culprit and their motive. Another example of how class and business are used by Marsh to convey the very worst of human nature, this is a character study as much as it is a work of genius detective fiction, making it a great read for Golden Age fans looking for an exceptional example of work from this seminal period in the history of Crime Fiction.
2. Death In A White Tie: I’ve always enjoyed novels that explore the class divide, and this is an exceptional example. As the social season begins, the high-class members of London society are descending on the city’s most fashionable hotspots. Amid this excitement a blackmailer lurks, seeking to profit from the secrets and sins of the rich and famous. Alleyn, set on finding the fiend and bringing them to justice, invites an old friend, Lord Robert Gospell, to help him in his quest. When a body is discovered in connection with the case, Alleyn is drawn into a complicated and intriguing case that delves deep into the highest echelons of London society.
1. A Man Lay Dead: I am a big believer in reading the first novel in a series first, and whilst this isn’t always the case, in this case it is a really good idea. A murder at a country house party during, ironically enough, a game of ‘murder’, begins Inspector Alleyn’s first published case. A complicated plot including Russian’s, secret societies and class politics keeps the intrepid Chief Inspector busy as he navigates the complicated lives his suspects. A true Golden Age thriller, this is a great starter for a new Marsh reader, as well as a good re-read for a hardened fan.