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Archived VBC Selections > A Man Lay Dead by Ngaio Marsh - VBC June 2017

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message 1: by John (new)

John (jtb1951) | 549 comments Mod
Welcome to our June discussion selection, A Man Lay Dead, by Ngaio Marsh, the first in her Roderick Alleyn mystery series. Ngaio Marsh (1895-1982), a native New Zealander, was a crime writer and theater director, and a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire. She is generally acknowledged as one of the four "Queens of Crime Fiction", along with Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Margery Allingham. In A Man Lay Dead she introduces her gentleman detective, Inspector Roderick Alleyn of the Metropolitan Police (London), who takes on the case of a murder mystery game party held in a posh manor in which a real murder occurs during the game-play. I enjoyed trying to put together the clues disclosed during Inspector Alleyn's investigation and I hope you do as well!


message 2: by Ana (new)

Ana Brazil (panab) | 43 comments Sounds like a good book...wonder how I missed it? (okay, it was probably because during my Golden Age reading binge I focused on Sayers & Christie....)


message 3: by Emily (new)

Emily | 341 comments I've read a few of these over the years. I have always found Sayers and Christie much more engaging than Marsh and Allingham. I enjoyed reading this one, though I still lost the thread a bit. I will have to read a few more in the series, see how they go. Also how Alleyn's character develops; in some ways, he is not that prominent in this one.


message 4: by Erin (new)

Erin (tangential1) | 1638 comments Mod
I'm just getting started with the book, but I was talking to my aunt about the series and she said she liked later books much better than this first book. I'm guessing some level of growing pains for a new author? I felt the same way about Sayers Lord Peter books, actually; loved the later books with Harriet, but the first book did not grab my attention.


message 5: by John (new)

John (jtb1951) | 549 comments Mod
Ana wrote: "Sounds like a good book...wonder how I missed it? (okay, it was probably because during my Golden Age reading binge I focused on Sayers & Christie....)"

I focused on Christie and Sayers myself, Ana, so this was my first from Marsh. I will be reading more in the series.


message 6: by John (new)

John (jtb1951) | 549 comments Mod
Emily wrote: "I've read a few of these over the years. I have always found Sayers and Christie much more engaging than Marsh and Allingham. I enjoyed reading this one, though I still lost the thread a bit. I wil..."

This is my first Marsh book, Emily, and it was engaging enough that I will be reading more in the series. I am a fan of both Sayers and Christie so it is about time that I read Marsh and Allingham!


message 7: by John (new)

John (jtb1951) | 549 comments Mod
Erin wrote: "I'm just getting started with the book, but I was talking to my aunt about the series and she said she liked later books much better than this first book. I'm guessing some level of growing pains f..."

My experience is that series (if they are any good at all) develop their main characters as they progress, and I plan on reading more of this series to see how Alleyn develops.


message 8: by Merrily (new)

Merrily | 1791 comments Mod
I loved Ngaio Marsh's books (and the TV series was good as well). I do think the later books are perhaps better - my personal favorites are the ones where Troy appears (e.g. "Artists in Crime," "Death in a White Tie," etc.
BTW, for those of you who like Benedict Cumberbatch, there are several Ngaio Marsh audio books read by him!


message 9: by Merrily (new)

Merrily | 1791 comments Mod
Traveldog wrote: ">>>>>BTW, for those of you who like Benedict Cumberbatch, there are several Ngaio Marsh audio books read by him!

Okay, I'm switching to audiobooks!!! :-)
I had read all of Christie, Sayers and A..."


Yes, Alleyn is an interesting character, one of the early "aristocratic sleuths." I always liked his relationship with his sergeant, "Brer Fox."


message 10: by Emily (new)

Emily | 341 comments I suppose we are just more subtle about it now, but the flagrant class prejudice of the Golden Age writers can be off-putting.


message 11: by MaryL (new)

MaryL (maryl1) | 234 comments I enjoy her clear, dramatist's description of the settings in the books-she clearly reveals her theater background. You could furnish the set with these word pictures. Also, she' very specific about people's actions and reactions.Lovely artistic prose.


I did not like the first words uttered by Alleyn: "You discovered my boyish secret. I've been given a murder to solve-aren't I a lucky little detective?". Ugh. Even more "silly" then early Peter Wimsey, which is saying something. Thank goodness Alleyn grows up and becomes brilliant instead of eccentric in future books!


message 12: by John (new)

John (jtb1951) | 549 comments Mod
I am glad to hear that there is character development and maturation in the later books. I have started the second novel, Enter A Murderer, and am enjoying it as well. I expect I will slowly work my way through the series.


message 13: by Merrily (new)

Merrily | 1791 comments Mod
Traveldog wrote: "Emily wrote: "I suppose we are just more subtle about it now, but the flagrant class prejudice of the Golden Age writers can be off-putting."

If you read a good deal of history --esp medieval -- t..."


I agree, Traveldog, I don't think we should judge 1930's characters by our own standards. I think one can deplore the attitudes of the time while at the same time enjoying the story and giving the characters credit for their positive qualities. I remember in one book, someone wants to invite Alleyn in but send Fox to the "tradesman's entrance" (he is, after all, of a "lower" class), but Alleyn won't permit it.
I had quite a crush on Alleyn in the 70's and read the whole series, in fact, still have my moldering paperbacks!


message 14: by Dina (new)

Dina | 79 comments I also read the series a long time ago. Loved it. One has to accept the prejudices of the time even though one can condemn them as one reads.


message 15: by Emily (new)

Emily | 341 comments Can't disagree. I love many books with questionable attitudes. Just something I'm always struck by, especially as U.S. class prejudice tends to take a different form


message 16: by Merrily (new)

Merrily | 1791 comments Mod
Emily wrote: "Can't disagree. I love many books with questionable attitudes. Just something I'm always struck by, especially as U.S. class prejudice tends to take a different form"

Yes, I think the Americans always find the whole Class thing in British mysteries a little bewildering (and intriguing). We have our own class issues here, too, but I think our class distinctions are more fungible and are often erased by Making a Whole Lot of Money (if not always). Our prejudices take a different form. Sometimes reading these Golden Age mysteries I'm reminded of the old BBC America commercial, "1000 years of repression and distinctions makes for great drama!".


message 17: by Merrily (new)

Merrily | 1791 comments Mod
Merrily wrote: "Emily wrote: "Can't disagree. I love many books with questionable attitudes. Just something I'm always struck by, especially as U.S. class prejudice tends to take a different form"

Yes, I think th..."


That should have been "class distinctions"!


message 18: by Lenore (new)

Lenore | 1078 comments Dina wrote: "I also read the series a long time ago. Loved it. One has to accept the prejudices of the time even though one can condemn them as one reads."

It's harder to accept the prejudices of the time if one is a member of the disfavored group. The casual antiSemitism of Dorothy Sayers and Agatha Christie taints their books for me. One of the things I've admired about Conan Doyle is his sympathetic treatment of interracial marriage in "The Yellow Face."


message 19: by Dina (new)

Dina | 79 comments Lenore, I agree. I am Jewish and am often appalled at the casual antisemitism found in the older books, particularly given the Holocaust and all the relatives I lost.

Yet I can still enjoy the books for what they were and dream that if written today, the authors would be more cognizant of their prejudices.


message 20: by Merrily (new)

Merrily | 1791 comments Mod
Lenore wrote: "Dina wrote: "I also read the series a long time ago. Loved it. One has to accept the prejudices of the time even though one can condemn them as one reads."

It's harder to accept the prejudices of ..."


I totally see that - a bit the way I felt as a girl when I first read Sherlock Holmes stories and read what he thought about women. Of course, since those days I've read Laurie King and know that he grew up and repented of what he thought when he was young and arrogant!


message 21: by Emily (new)

Emily | 341 comments Merrily wrote: "Lenore wrote: It's harder to accept the prejudices of the time if one is a member of the disfavored group.."

I totally see that - a bit the way I felt as a girl when I first read Sherlock Holmes stories and read what he thought about women. e..."


The sexism and misogyny goes beyond casual in a lot of books of the era, but I tend to brought up short more by the anti-Semitism and racism. And yet I'm a white Christian woman. I don't know if overt sexism is more common and thus less noteworthy, or it's so different from current experience that it doesn't seem relevant.


message 22: by MaryL (new)

MaryL (maryl1) | 234 comments In a related vein: I have a problem with the dialogue, not just in this book but in several books written in the late 20's-early 30's. Did people really talk like that: so silly ass, fake disingenuousness? (Alleyn's "poor memory" and exaggerated mannerisms)And the women! Such DRAMA!!! ALL THE TIME!!!

Or is it how readers expected the "upper crust" to talk so they were written that way? Sort of like the exaggerated Valley Girl or stoner dialogue found in some fiction today?


message 23: by Emily (new)

Emily (gleodream) | 91 comments I grew up reading a lot of Marsh, and I would agree with those who've argued that her novels get a lot better, and that Alleyn himself becomes a more interesting and compelling character, too.

I would, however, push back a little against the idea that we've evolved in a linear way towards a more just society since antiquity or the Middle Ages. There were some pretty dramatic regressions in the last 500 years, and there are situations when we look at a societal structure that functions on the basis of different assumptions than those we're accustomed to, and read them as being less fair or less enlightened or whatever, rather than seeing how we might have enshrined different kinds of tensions or problematic dynamics in our society.


message 24: by Erin (last edited Jun 05, 2017 12:49PM) (new)

Erin (tangential1) | 1638 comments Mod
Emily wrote: "I suppose we are just more subtle about it now, but the flagrant class prejudice of the Golden Age writers can be off-putting."

There are so many historical fiction writers who write about this same era that I have to remind myself that this is NOT historical fiction so much as "historical" fiction. It isn't a modern writer putting modern sensibilities into an older time period (like we saw with last month's book!), which I'm so used to, it's almost jarring to NOT see the anachronisms included.


message 25: by Emily (new)

Emily | 341 comments Erin wrote: "Emily wrote: "I suppose we are just more subtle about it now, but the flagrant class prejudice of the Golden Age writers can be off-putting."

There are so many historical fiction writers who write..."


Yes, and as you can see, I am perfectly willing to criticize the modern writers for being anachronistic and the historical writers for being unpleasantly prejudiced!

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.


message 26: by Erin (new)

Erin (tangential1) | 1638 comments Mod
Merrily wrote: "but I think our class distinctions are more fungible and are often erased by Making a Whole Lot of Money"

I'm reminded of that scene in the movie Pretty Woman where Julia Roberts has been given a boatload of money to go buy a dress, but she shows up at the dress store in her "ghetto" clothes and they won't even speak with her long enough to learn that she has a boatload of money to spend.

All the class prejudice seems to boil down to fashion and attitude. And maybe diction.


message 27: by Erin (new)

Erin (tangential1) | 1638 comments Mod
MaryL wrote: Or is it how readers expected the "upper crust" to talk so they were written that way? Sort of like the exaggerated Valley Girl or stoner dialogue found in some fiction today? "

Oh, hmm...interesting point, Mary! Or the reverse, that all lower class people speak with strong East End accents or in cockney slang.


message 28: by Emily (new)

Emily | 341 comments Erin wrote: "MaryL wrote: Or is it how readers expected the "upper crust" to talk so they were written that way? Sort of like the exaggerated Valley Girl or stoner dialogue found in some fiction today? "

Oh, h..."


There are some Lexicon Valley podcasts about old movies, and "Did people really talk like that?" - more the semi-British accent Americans used to use in the movies, but still interesting.

Stilted dialogue is hardly limited to old mysteries. But there's a nice line early in this book that's something like, "Nigel was unable to summon the requisite degree of facetiousness" which implies that it was put on to some degree. So expected either by the readers, or by the class of people who talked that way.


message 29: by MaryL (new)

MaryL (maryl1) | 234 comments Thanks-missed that line!


message 30: by KarenB (new)

KarenB | 352 comments Broad generalization coming . . . . The Golden Age mysteries, as a whole, tend to be written with characters who are "types." And these types are described by their mannerisms, their clothing and hair styles, and by their speech. The books are often more of a puzzle rather than the mysteries of our era and so the characters function as another "piece" to the puzzle. I would think that readers of that era would recognize the types as we recognize stereotypes used now. The better mysteries of that age - Ngaio Marsh's later books, Dorothy Sayer's later books - move more in the direction of novels, with more fully fleshed characters and better developed plots based more on the characters than the working out of a puzzle. In Dorothy Sayer's books, the discussions that Harriet Vane has about her books and her characters reflects this development, which creates a nice bit of metafiction! I found the somewhat stock characters to be all of a piece with the plot and how the murder was done - not believable but entertaining and fun to read.


message 31: by Emily (new)

Emily | 341 comments Good points, Karen. Basically, a novelistic form of "Clue" (the game).


message 32: by Eleanor (new)

Eleanor Kuhns (goodreadscomeleanor_kuhns) | 28 comments I read almost all of Marsh's books when I was a teenager. I found I felt a lot different about this one now. I enjoyed them more. First, it was pretty dated. (Of course so are Christie and Sayers.) I didn't find this mystery as captivating though as their early works. And, maybe because I just watched PBS Victorian Slum House I found the class prejudice and behaviors appalling. That really colored the entire story for me,


message 33: by Eleanor (new)

Eleanor Kuhns (goodreadscomeleanor_kuhns) | 28 comments oops, my fingers are outrunning my brain. I meant I enjoyed them more when I was younger for the reasons given above.


message 34: by Erin (new)

Erin (tangential1) | 1638 comments Mod
Emily wrote: "Basically, a novelistic form of "Clue" (the game)."

Has anyone seen the trailer for the new remake of Murder on the Orient Express? Immediately brought to mind Clue!


message 35: by Emily (new)

Emily | 341 comments Erin wrote: "Emily wrote: "Basically, a novelistic form of "Clue" (the game)."

Has anyone seen the trailer for the new remake of Murder on the Orient Express? Immediately brought to mind Clue!"


I saw it on the cover of Entertainment Weekly, and was kind of amazed a) that they are still doing remakes of Agatha Christie, and b) that they thought it would have the kind of appeal of the superhero blockbusters they usually put on the cover. Go figure.


message 36: by John (new)

John (jtb1951) | 549 comments Mod
Most of us (an assumption) are probably pretty familiar with the differences between American and British English, if one has read much British writing at all. How is everyone doing with what are probably early 20th Century British colloquialisms sprinkled throughout the book?


message 37: by Jeanne (new)

Jeanne | 24 comments I must read too much and watch too many British shows. I didn't even notice them.


message 38: by Ana (new)

Ana Brazil (panab) | 43 comments Same here :)


message 39: by Margaret (new)

Margaret | 128 comments The book was just OK but the discussions have been excellent.

I did borrow a much later in the series, and yes it was better.


message 40: by Antoinette (new)

Antoinette | 186 comments Reading this month's book brings back so many pleasant memories of discovering the mysteries of Marsh, Christie and Sayers, They were my introduction to the mystery genre and the authors who hooked me. Thanks ladies.


message 41: by Lenore (new)

Lenore | 1078 comments I listened to this book years ago, around the same time I discovered and listened to "The Beekeeper's Apprentice." The fact that I remembered nothing about it -- whereas I can remember A LOT about BEEK -- should have given me a clue. But, remembering nothing, I am re-reading it.

It's sort of entertaining to read the dialogue, but I found it entirely unbelievable. What sort of official detective (Scotland Yard or otherwise) dragoons civilians to help with the investigation, to the point of stealing a suspect's letters, or hires on a possible (if unlikely) fleeing suspect as a personal servant? And these are only the most flagrant departures from reality.

I know Ngaio Marsh is considered one of the grandes dames of the golden age of detective stories, but on the basis of this book I cannot imagine why.


message 42: by Emily (new)

Emily | 341 comments Lenore wrote: "What sort of official detective (Scotland Yard or otherwise) dragoons civilians to help with the investigation, to the point of stealing a suspect's letters, or hires on a possible (if unlikely) fleeing suspect as a personal servant? And these are only the most flagrant departures from reality. ..."

The whole idea of an amateur detective is pretty unrealistic (not exactly what we have here, but similar). For some reason I tend to give it a pass in historical mysteries, but it annoys me in contemporary ones.


message 43: by Ana (new)

Ana Brazil (panab) | 43 comments Lenore wrote: "I listened to this book years ago, around the same time I discovered and listened to "The Beekeeper's Apprentice." The fact that I remembered nothing about it -- whereas I can remember A LOT about ..."

YEP, including the civilians jumped the shark for me. With that involvement and the Russian subplot, I really think that Marsh was writing what she thought people wanted to read. And she wanted to engage them as quickly as possible (via POV and current day politics..since the book was published in '34, it was probably written in '31?)

Since I did my Golden Age reading way back in college, I'm glad to revisit Marsh, but her first book certainly doesn't compare to Sayers' first book.

What's the July selection?


message 44: by John (new)

John (jtb1951) | 549 comments Mod
Ana, the July selection is Laurie's new book, Lockdown, a standalone. It is excellent, imho, but we will see what everyone else thinks.


message 45: by Margaret (new)

Margaret | 128 comments Lockdown>/u> is up next on my audio listen list.


message 46: by Katherine (new)

Katherine | 8 comments This was my first book with this group. My interest has been piqued by some of the suggestions here and like many of you I'm looking for other mysteries of interest.This one didn't appeal to me much and I'd probably not seek out other books from Marsh unless I was really without other options.

I only discovered Laurie R. King's books last year and I'm slowly reading my way through them to prolong the enjoyment. They're so well-written and the characterization is outstanding.

Looking forward to reading other selections...


message 47: by John (new)

John (jtb1951) | 549 comments Mod
Katherine wrote: "This was my first book with this group. My interest has been piqued by some of the suggestions here and like many of you I'm looking for other mysteries of interest.This one didn't appeal to me muc..."

Have you been reading solely the Mary Russell books, or have you read any of the Martinelli series, or other standalones, Katherine?


message 48: by Katherine (new)

Katherine | 8 comments John wrote: "Have you been reading solely the Mary Russell books, or have you read any of the Martinelli series, or other standalones, Katherine? "

John, thus far I've read only the Mary Russell books. Absolutely love them! I was sick for several months during the winter so I treated myself to all of main novels in hardback--they got me through. I did purchase two of her others, one from the Martinelli series and Folly though I haven't read them yet. Really looking forward to Lockdown next month.

Oh and I also started the Maisie Dobbs series recently by Jacqueline Winspear and think I'm going to enjoy that one as well.


message 49: by Sabrina (new)

Sabrina Flynn | 1158 comments Mod
I was distracted by Lockdown this month, so I got a late start to this month's read. So far, it isn't turning out to be a page-turner for me. I'm hoping it picks up. I must admit… I didn't read the synopsis or even glance at the subtitle, so for some reason I thought Rankin was the main character. LOL, that was a bit of a surprise.


message 50: by Margaret (new)

Margaret | 128 comments Katherine, although I still love the Mary Russell and Kate Martinelli series (after many re-readings) I think Folly is LRK's very best book. Especially if you can get the Frank Muller audiobook version.


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