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A Man Lay Dead (Roderick Alleyn #1)
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Ngaio Marsh Buddy Reads > A Man Lay Dead

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Susan | 9617 comments Mod
Welcome to the January read for our 2018 Ngaio Marsh Challenge!

“A Man Lay Dead,” was published in 1934 and features Ngaio Marsh’s series detective, Roderick Alleyn. The novel begins as a standard ‘murder at a weekend party in a country house,’ when a murder game goes wrong. Set at one of Sir Hubert Handesley’s famous weekend parties, the novel features Nigel Bathgate, who aides Alleyn in his investigation and goes on to feature in some other books in the series. As well as the typical, country house setting, the plot also includes mysterious Russians, secret societies and a coveted dagger.

Having enjoyed a crime novel (by either Sayers or Christie) Ngaio Marsh wondered if she could write something similar and brought six exercise books and a pencil at a local stationers. Her initial efforts saw her quickly being published and soon she would join Christe, Sayers and Allingham as one of the major Golden Age mystery writers. In our 2018 challenge, we will read the first 12 books in the series.

Please refrain from posting spoilers in this thread.


Mark Pghfan | 362 comments I know I read this before, and also watched the TV version, so I knew the culprit right off the bat. It was a pleasant read, though, but some of the dialogue seemed very dated.


Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8592 comments Mod
I've started rereading this in a lovely omnibus edition containing the first 3 books which I was given for Christmas - but I'm putting them down as separate books on Goodreads because of the challenge, lol.

There's an interesting short introduction where Marsh recalls how she created Alleyn, buying those 6 exercise books which Susana mentioned!

I think she somewhat has her cake and eats it with Alleyn, by making him a professional policeman, so that he doesn't have to keep coming across crimes by accident, but giving him the upper-crust background of many an amateur sleuth. I'm wondering if she was the first author to think of this combination? It's certainly been adopted by many authors since, including Inspector Lynley in the Elizabeth George books.


Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8592 comments Mod
P.S. I did also wonder if Marsh ever considered making Nigel Bathgate her series sleuth? He seems quite similar to other characters of the period and being a gossip columnist would give him a way into many mysteries. I suppose she could always have changed over if he had proved more popular than Alleyn.


Susan | 9617 comments Mod
I know Nigel Bathgate appears in the next book, Judy. However, later in the series, Alleyn acquires a wife, who becomes his partner - apparently much in the Wimsey/Harriet partnership way, although I haven't read very far in the series, so haven't come across her. Does anyone know if she appears in the first 12 books?


message 6: by Hilary (A Wytch's Book Review) (last edited Jan 01, 2018 09:54AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Hilary (A Wytch's Book Review) (knyttwytch) Yep she appears in Artists in Crime Artists in Crime by Ngaio Marsh


message 7: by Sue (new) - rated it 3 stars

Sue (mrskipling) | 250 comments Judy wrote: "I'm putting them down as separate books on Goodreads because of the challenge, lol. ..."

I'm reading the same combined version Judy, and doing the same thing. I'd feel cheated if I only got one 'point' for reading three books!

I like your point about Alleyn being an upper-class policeman. I couldn't make out if he was comfortable in that country house setting. At times he appeared to be on edge, but was that just a deliberate strategy to soothe the witnesses into a more relaxed state?


Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8592 comments Mod
I'm finding the way Doctor Tokareff talks very annoying - a little goes a long way. Unfortunately quite a few GA books go mad on giving phonetic renditions of accents.


Mark Pghfan | 362 comments Judy, I agree with you on the phonetic renditions! I felt the same way with Sayers' Five Red Herrings, and the dreadful-to-read Scottish burr.


message 10: by Susan (last edited Jan 01, 2018 10:40PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Susan | 9617 comments Mod
Hilary S wrote: "Yep she appears in Artists in Crime Artists in Crime by Ngaio Marsh"

Thanks, Hilary. It will be good to see her within our challenge.

I totally agree about the phonetic renditions of accents. Allingham is also guilty of this and most cockneys sound very Dick van Dyke on the page!


message 11: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8592 comments Mod
I remember the first time I read this I kept getting the various upper-crust characters mixed up with one another, so am hoping I'll do better this time. There are rather too many similar people at the house party at once, I feel.

I'm also not sure I'd enjoy this party if I was invited even without the murder - it all seems too horrendously hearty. The "rag" started by Marjorie thowing a cushion about quickly goes over the top. I'm confused as to why Charles and Nigel (and others?) take off Arthur's trousers (debag him) especially in front of the ladies - and how his glasses get smashed! Nigel doesn't seem to be very enthusiastic but just goes along with it on Charles's say-so.


Sandy | 2623 comments Mod
I re-read this book via audio during Christmas prep and obviously didn't pay enough attention (I didn't like the book much on my first read). Like Judy, I've confused the upper-crust party goers and I don't even remember the party shenanigans.

Doubt I'll give it a third chance but wish I had picked a less busy time to listen.


message 13: by Sue (new) - rated it 3 stars

Sue (mrskipling) | 250 comments The 'rag' incident did seem a bit out of context. These days he would have sued for sexual harassment of course! Perhaps it's another example of her having a collection of incidents that she wanted to use to create the story, but they don't necessarily fit together very well - like the Russian sub-plot mentioned earlier.


Susan | 9617 comments Mod
The whole 'ragging' incident was horribly uncomfortable. I didn't like Charles after that and I didn't much like Marjorie either. It was a good thing that Marsh made Charles and Nigel cousins, as they didn't really work as friends.


message 15: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8592 comments Mod
They just seem to do the 'rag' because they are bored for a minute, and they aren't even bothered about breaking Arthur's glasses. If they cost as much as mine do, he could give them a huge bill...


Hilary (A Wytch's Book Review) (knyttwytch) I think Charles has never really "grown up" as such, he is still acting like a child and thinks the world should bend over backwards for him!


Jan C (woeisme) | 1310 comments I read this in 2013 and again in 2016. Not sure if I am ready for a third reading so soon. But I have retrieved my copy from the garage.
And will try to decide whether to read it again or not.


Susan | 9617 comments Mod
It was interesting that Charles and Arthur were at school together. I think they were both still in those schoolboy roles. I remember reading that Churchill and Leo Amery fell out at Eton when Churchill pushed him into a swimming pool and it took them years to get over it apparently!


message 19: by Judy (last edited Jan 03, 2018 02:16PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8592 comments Mod
Must admit I'm not enjoying this as much as my previous read of the same book - I suspect I've gone back to it a bit too soon. But I do like Nigel and it's interesting to see such a young and jokey Alleyn.


Mark Pghfan | 362 comments I think much of this negative commentary (which I agree with) is due mostly to the perceived mores of the time. Rich, obnoxious men like Charles and privileged women like Marjorie. I agree that Nigel is by far the best of the bunch!


Susan | 9617 comments Mod
Why do you think Nigel was so keen to be invited to the house party? Invitations were obviously prized, so do you think it was just a step to becoming more socially accepted? I must say that, although Nigel was obviously diligent about his job, he seemed a little embarrassed about making use of his contacts to ever become a truly successful journalist!


message 22: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8592 comments Mod
Susan wrote: "Why do you think Nigel was so keen to be invited to the house party? Invitations were obviously prized, so do you think it was just a step to becoming more socially accepted? I must say that, altho..."

Good question! I think because he is a gossip columnist - so mingling with the rich and famous is all part of his job, although it's just struck me we don't see much evidence of him actually doing any writing or sharing any gossip!


Susan | 9617 comments Mod
He did write something up before the inquest, but I also felt that he should have been more interested in the juicy gossip (even if it did involve his own cousin....).


message 24: by Sue (new) - rated it 3 stars

Sue (mrskipling) | 250 comments I wonder if he was a bit slow to take advantage of his situation because he is quite young in this book? I think someone said he appears again in later Alleyn books. It would be interesting to see if his character develops and he becomes more of a hard-boiled journalist as he gets older!


Susan | 9617 comments Mod
Sue wrote: "I wonder if he was a bit slow to take advantage of his situation because he is quite young in this book? I think someone said he appears again in later Alleyn books. It would be interesting to see ..."

I agree, Sue. I know he is in the next book. I liked him as a character, but it seems he does not last long as Alleyn's confidante and is replaced in later books.


Jan C (woeisme) | 1310 comments Nigel is in at least three books.


message 27: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8592 comments Mod
Just noticed this comment from Nigel about Alleyn "He must be a gent with private means who sleuths for sleuthing's sake".

He definitely comes across as a Holmes/Wimsey figure in this book, despite being an Inspector, and doesn't seem to be too interested in working with the other police!


Susan | 9617 comments Mod
Jan C wrote: "Nigel is in at least three books."

Thanks, Jan. I think I could become quite fond of Nigel, even if he does daft things a times and is a little too trusting :)


Roman Clodia | 758 comments I've just started this: it feels very typical of the period at the moment - murderous foreign secret societies, love triangles, and an inheritance. I'm sure I've read another murder game story which goes wrong in the same way but can't think where. I'm enjoying it - and it's nice to have a handsome detective, for a change!


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Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8592 comments Mod
Have you read The Crime at Black Dudley by Margery Allingham, RC? I've just posted over in the spoiler thread about the similarities between them. Glad you are enjoying it!


Roman Clodia | 758 comments No, I've never read any Allingham - I'll have a look at the spoiler thread when I'm done. Which came first, this or Black Dudley?


message 32: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8592 comments Mod
Black Dudley was several years earlier.


Tara  | 761 comments Judy wrote: "I've started rereading this in a lovely omnibus edition containing the first 3 books which I was given for Christmas - but I'm putting them down as separate books on Goodreads because of the challe..."

Totally agree Judy that having a professional detective means we won't have to stretch to put him in situations where murders are happening, which is quite convenient. Poor Miss Marple from our last challenge could just never get away from it.

The incident with the pantsing of Arthur was quite unpleasant, and gives the impression that people with too much money and not enough to occupy themselves can find quite boorish activities to fill their time. Certainly not a crowd I would be eager to join.


Susan | 9617 comments Mod
I think there are quite a lot of similarities between this and Black Dudley. I know Marsh said she had read Christie and Sayers, but I suspect she had also read Allingham and mixed up the three, or used aspects of all. She certainly found a winning formula, as she joined their ranks pretty quickly.


Lesley | 384 comments In this book I think Marsh uses most of the plot lines employed by the existing GA mystery writers whom she admired, including the Russian trope. Some here have commented on Alleyn's sarcastic wit. I can't say I noticed it that much until I went back looking at what was mentioned and not liked. It struck me that it hadn't stood out that much to me because it is very much of the dry wit I'm quite used to. Perhaps that is an antipodean thing!?

Remembering Marsh had written the bulk of this book before she ever left NZ the first time. In fact while in UK on that 1932 trip she spent a lot of time engaging the services of a publisher for her first work. Soon after having got a publisher interested she unexpectedly needed to return home as her mother was terminally ill. It was while she was back home she did the final edits on it.

Maybe she became more aware of the differences in culture once she returned to live in UK the second time, so developed Alleyn differently?


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Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8592 comments Mod
Interesting, Leslie - I think the dry wit and the level of sarcasm is also quite reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes, who gets mentioned quite a few times during the novel.

Other detectives from the GA period such as Wimsey and Campion are also very witty, but I think perhaps not as sarcastic as Alleyn.


Susan | 9617 comments Mod
That's interesting, Leslie, because it is suggested in the biography I read that she started writing this in London - going out to get pads and a pencil and sitting up writing from scratch. So the biography even got that wrong...


message 38: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8592 comments Mod
Ngaio Marsh tells the story of writing the first book in London and buying the exercise books etc in the short introduction to the omnibus edition of the first 3 Alleyn novels. This was clearly written many years later, though.


Susan | 9617 comments Mod
So a little poetic license?


Roman Clodia | 758 comments We were talking on another thread, I can't remember which one, about when the police became a respectable middle-class profession: it certainly seems to have happened here - I like that Alleyn is in control and not embarrassed by the status of the suspects.

There's an odd moment, though, when he says that he's embarrassed to ask for their fingerprints and is going around collecting them off cups and so on.


Susan | 9617 comments Mod
Yes, that's true, RC. He may not have wanted to alert possible suspects though. I would agree with you that he seemed more at ease with the suspects than many other detectives. I used to enjoy Wimsey and his nemesis, the wonderfully named, Sugg!


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Sue (mrskipling) | 250 comments Roman Clodia wrote: "There's an odd moment, though, when he says that he's embarrassed to ask for their fingerprints and is going around collecting them off cups and so on...."

I'm glad you mentioned that Roman Clodia as I had forgotten it, but I did notice it at the time and thought it was an odd attitude. I did get the impression that he was uncomfortable asking them, rather than wanting to keep suspects from being alarmed.

I think these days you have to give them if asked don't you? Would it be obstruction of justice (or similar) if you refused? But it's interesting how the police in this period were negotiating that tricky transition from being almost the servants of the wealthy, and often despised by them, to becoming a profession in their own right with significant powers over everybody, titled or not.

I wonder if that's why some authors chose to make the detective a member of that class, to give him (or her, but usually him!) more gravitas?


Tara  | 761 comments Sue wrote: "Roman Clodia wrote: "There's an odd moment, though, when he says that he's embarrassed to ask for their fingerprints and is going around collecting them off cups and so on...."

I'm glad you mentio..."

Nowadays (at least in the US), you would probably need a warrant to collect fingerprints or DNA, but I would imagine in this case it would be easily obtained given the need to exclude suspects. I think at least part of his unease must be that the upper classes weren't used to having their feathers ruffled (at least not by someone outside of their circles), and would have been insulted by the thought that they were considered suspects. If Alleyn could quietly and discreetly rule out suspects, it would be to everyone's benefit. The less threatened they felt, the more liking they would be open to questioning without having to be "cautioned".


Susan | 9617 comments Mod
Actually, I am reading the second in the series at the moment, and it is mentioned that Alleyn prefers to get fingerprints secretly in that book too. I suspect it was just a personal quirk of his, or he didn't like to alert people that he was investigating them too closely?


Tara  | 761 comments Susan wrote: "Actually, I am reading the second in the series at the moment, and it is mentioned that Alleyn prefers to get fingerprints secretly in that book too. I suspect it was just a personal quirk of his, ..."

I don't know enough about the character at this point to say if its a personal quirk, but I can see how it would be useful to investigate people quietly, at least initially. But perhaps we will find that Alleyn enjoys the subterfuge. I think the Russian secret society subplot was much more convoluted than it needed to be in order to nab those involved.


Susan | 9617 comments Mod
I know we read this, first book, before. Has anyone else read on? I have read the first three previously, but have never read far in the series.


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Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8592 comments Mod
I read the second book after our previous read. I have also read a lot of the others in the past, but not recently.


Hilary (A Wytch's Book Review) (knyttwytch) I have read all of them at various times - not in order I don't think but as I got them!


Susan | 9617 comments Mod
That's interesting. I think she will be less well known to many of us than Sayers or Christie.


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Chris | 2 comments I really loved Death at the Dolphin. Excellent novel. Also Singing in the Shrouds.


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