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

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Susan | 10021 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 feel free to post spoilers in this thread.


Susan | 10021 comments Mod
I really enjoyed re-reading this and, even though we read it as a group, I had quite forgotten 'whodunnit'!


Mark Pghfan | 365 comments What do you all think of the Russian secret group business? Didn't it seem out of place, given the actual crime and it's resolution?


Susan | 10021 comments Mod
Mark Pghfan wrote: "What do you all think of the Russian secret group business? Didn't it seem out of place, given the actual crime and it's resolution?"

I was interested in your comment here, Mark, and on the other thread. Marsh was the last of the 'Big 4' GA author published, but I agree with you that she seemed to fit quite well with most of the debut novels we read from that era, both in terms of language and with theme. So you have the Russian secret brotherhood (Allingham had a similar, if criminal, group in her first book), the classic weekend house party - from SO many novels of that era - and a gentleman sleuth. I wonder if she was just finding her feet and throwing in ingredients with this debut? Which I loved, by the way.


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Sue (mrskipling) | 250 comments Mark Pghfan wrote: "What do you all think of the Russian secret group business? Didn't it seem out of place, given the actual crime and it's resolution?"

Mark I was thinking the same thing - it seemed like a distraction from the main crime. It didn't really add anything to the story. I thought the fingernail incident was unnecessarily unpleasant, given that the rest of the book was a standard, non-gory country house murder.

I really enjoyed the book on the whole, but several things seemed unlikely, even for that era. For example, the detective using his own home to stage the Russian meeting. Or even the fact that he took Nigel into his confidence because he had already decided that Nigel couldn't possibly have been the murderer.

Susan I think you're right in that she was just establishing her approach with this book. I'm really looking forward to seeing how her style develops over the next few books in the series.


Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 104 comments Finished it yesterday. The Russian group seemed a strange add on to me. It was an enjoyable read, but not the best I’ve ever read. I think, as previously mentioned, she was finding her way. Was there something going on with Russia at the time of this book’s writing?


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Sue (mrskipling) | 250 comments One thing I did like about her style was how succinctly she introduced all the key characters in the first chapter. I felt as though I had a clue to the personality of each one right from the beginning:-

Nigel Bathgate "at 25 he had outgrown that horror of enthusiasm which is so characteristic of youth grown-up" (reminds me of my daughter!)

Mrs Wilde “very large blue eyes and the tip of an abbreviated nose […] and a rather high-pitched, ‘fashionable’ voice"

One phrase I didn’t understand was the description of Charles Rankin who had “one of those twisted smiles that always reminded Nigel of a faun” Am I missing something there?


Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8950 comments Mod
Haha Sue, I've just been puzzling over that same comment about the twisted smile.


Lesley | 384 comments From my memory of what I recall in history at college.

Russia was a pretty big focus in world politics during the time of our GA authors. Communism was being established, and the creation of the Soviet Union was underway. About the time of the mid 1930s was when Stalin imposed famine by means of having the secret police confiscate food to force the Ukranian peasants to give up their farm lands to the 'collective'. In fact Russia was pretty much in the news all the way through the '30s leading up to the Purges.


Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 104 comments Lesley~aka Ella's Gran wrote: "From my memory of what I recall in history at college.

Russia was a pretty big focus in world politics during the time of our GA authors. Communism was being established, and the creation of the S..."


Thank you for this. This may be why the Russians were included in the story to make it current for her readers


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Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8950 comments Mod
Thanks, Lesley - I've just been trying to find something about Russian secret societies and drawing a blank. There were certainly a lot of Russian exiles living in Britain, and I remember in one of the Lord Peter Wimsey books he goes and eats at a Russian club in London, where the members have left-wing views.


Lesley | 384 comments Deborah wrote: "Lesley~aka Ella's Gran wrote: "From my memory of what I recall in history at college.

Russia was a pretty big focus in world politics during the time of our GA authors. Communism was being establi..."


I think people were generally concerned about communisim, and the Russians creating what would become known as the Soviet Union, along with their known resistance to the Reich. I guess in modern parlance they were seen to be forming a super power, and the world did become unsettled when the Russians and Reich intervened in the Spanish Civil War. That was later described as a 'practice run' to WWII. Of course, both the Reich and the Russians were building to that war, but for some reason the Russians were initially seen as the greater threat. Possibly because communism was quite a new concept and so looked on with mistrust?


Frances (francesab) | 384 comments Sue wrote: "One phrase I didn’t understand was the description of Charles Rankin who had “one of those twisted smiles that always reminded Nigel of a faun"

I missed that on the initial read, presumably some foreshadowing that he is not the avuncular character that Nigel may assume, and that he is in fact more of a libertine (and which we know will contribute to his becoming the victim in this case).


Frances (francesab) | 384 comments While I agree with the general comments that this is an early work and still rough around the edges, she does seem to capture the style and feel of the traditional country house weekend setting, at least to this Canadian's ear. As someone born and raised in middle-class (or lower) circumstances in New Zealand, has anything ever been said about how well Marsh portrayed the English upper class language and mores? Does the dialogue "sound" right to English readers?


Lesley | 384 comments Judy wrote: "Thanks, Lesley - I've just been trying to find something about Russian secret societies and drawing a blank. There were certainly a lot of Russian exiles living in Britain, and I remember in one of..."

Russia underwent quite drastic changes during the period after WWI leading up to WWII, which also had an economic bearing on the Asian world, and in turn on the Western world. It's quite an interesting period in world economics and politics to read up on with the benefits of hindsight - not to mention a little bit scary.

But all of that would been having quite an influence on their near neighbours which could be why our GA authors did build Russia and Russian 'spies' into their books.


Lesley | 384 comments Frances wrote: "While I agree with the general comments that this is an early work and still rough around the edges, she does seem to capture the style and feel of the traditional country house weekend setting, at..."

By NZ standards at the time, she was raised more in the middle-upper class. Even though she described her parents as have-nots that is not really the truth when looking at the 'big socio-economic picture' of NZ at that time. Her father was a bank clerk when most of the working population were labourers. He was certainly paid well in that profession as he was able to build their home in Cashmere, a well to do part of Christchurch then, and still is today. She also was privately schooled which was a very upper-class thing to do at that time.


Frances (francesab) | 384 comments Thanks for clarifying-I'd just done a quick Wiki search on her background (I knew she was from NZ but didn't know much else). I suspect it was still quite a different social stratum from that of her literary subjects, however!


Mark Pghfan | 365 comments Frances, regarding the dialogue, I thought from time to time, though I can't remember exact phrases, that things I assumed were slang for the time, seem very dated now.

Being a Christie fan, I think that is something that has helped her work endure, that she didn't do a lot of the colloquialisms of the times she wrote in, and so they don't seem awkward today.


Susan | 10021 comments Mod
When I read Marsh's biography it seems she had very close English friends and spent a lot of time here - admittedly not too long before writing this novel - but she sounds convincing and I wouldn't think she was not an English author if I didn't know. She does a much more convincing job than many modern authors I have read, who insert the words 'cookie,' and 'sidewalk,' into Victorian novels set in London!


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Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8950 comments Mod
I agree, the dialogue sounds convincing to me too - extremely dated now of course but that’s part of the charm.


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Sue (mrskipling) | 250 comments Susan wrote: "She does a much more convincing job than many modern authors I have read, who insert the words 'cookie,' and 'sidewalk,' into Victorian novels..."

Oh yes, this drives me crazy! I generally give up with those books, as the irritation pulls me out of the story too much!


message 22: by [deleted user] (last edited Jan 02, 2018 05:55AM) (new)

I enjoyed the dated dialogue, it added to the fun. This one from the examining doctor gave me a chuckle early on; "life had been extinct about thirty minutes."

I got off track a little with the whole "sliding down a banister face-first and wielding a dagger" thing. I went back and read the discussion from the group's first read of the book and found that this was a little implausible to some other readers.

I thought the book was great fun overall. If my TBR pile weren't so staggering, I'd give this one another read. I tend to get in a hurry with whodunits in eagerness for the big reveal at the end, missing out on some things that a slower read would yield.

Looking forward to the next one!


Susan | 10021 comments Mod
Even harder, Doug, they weren't wielding a dagger, but grabbed it on the way down! I would be pretty impressed if I was on the jury...


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Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8950 comments Mod
An odd moment where Nigel decides to see off Charles as the body is taken to the mortuary, and feels he ought to touch his face - quite poignant.


Susan | 10021 comments Mod
Yes, that felt very real, didn't it, Judy?


Mark Pghfan | 365 comments I remember not really believing the likelihood of the sliding down the banister business. All too contrived.

Have any of you watched the TV adaptation? I haven't watched it in a while, but might have a look, for this discussion.


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Sue (mrskipling) | 250 comments Mark Pghfan wrote: "Have any of you watched the TV adaptation? I haven't watched it in a while, but might ..."

I'd be interested to know if you find a link to this Mark :-)


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Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8950 comments Mod
Susan wrote: "Yes, that felt very real, didn't it, Judy?"

Yes, it did (Nigel touching Charles's face) - makes me wonder if the series will get more serious later. I have read a lot of the later novels, but not recently, and I think they probably do, as this was a general trend with GA novels.


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Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8950 comments Mod
Mark Pghfan wrote: "I remember not really believing the likelihood of the sliding down the banister business. All too contrived.

Have any of you watched the TV adaptation? I haven't watched it in a while, but might ..."


I have seen it, but not very recently - I have a vague recollection that it is set rather later with an older Alleyn.


message 30: by Bev (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bev | 28 comments Judy wrote: "Mark Pghfan wrote: "I remember not really believing the likelihood of the sliding down the banister business. All too contrived.

Have any of you watched the TV adaptation? I haven't watched it in..."


Am watching the adaptation (again)...it does have an older Alleyn. It also takes the series out of its timeline....Alleyn didn't even know Troy at this point in the book series, but they're already seeing one another here.


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Bev | 28 comments It had been quite some time since I read this first one. I had forgotten about the Russian intrigue. I had also forgotten that Inspector Fox wasn't in this one. I missed Alleyn's interactions with his faithful sidekick--Bunce and Bailey weren't quite the same.


Mark Pghfan | 365 comments Sue: I have the DVD. I don't know if it is available on-line anywhere. Perhaps someone else would?

Yes, the TV version did seem to settle on a Alleyn of a certain age, natural given that they were producing a number of them in a short time frame. And no, no mention of Troy in either the book or this adaptation.


Susan | 10021 comments Mod
I can access it on YouTube. I haven't watched it, just looked and there are a few Inspector Alleyn mysteries listed.


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Sue (mrskipling) | 250 comments Susan wrote: "I can access it on YouTube. I haven't watched it, just looked and there are a few Inspector Alleyn mysteries listed."

Thanks Susan - I've found it! I'll be watching that over the weekend probably. Especially if this wet weather keeps up. ;-)


Susan | 10021 comments Mod
Good idea, Sue. Just the weather for staying indoors :)


Pages | 61 comments Hi everyone.

I'm glad I read this book so I am never left wondering what it was like. I liked the basic murder mystery in a house plot but struggled with liking Alleyn. He was often needlessly sarcastic and condescending. I know you don't always have to like the main characters but I wasn't intrigued by his background or wanted to get to know him better. I think I need that in the main detective to continue to read on in the series.

I have read a lot of articles about this book and how it was her first mystery. I did question the Russian connection, which I thought it could do without but do understand the period in which it was written.

Mr Wilde going to such lengths to kill him seemed a little implausible but I did enjoy the thought of him sliding down the banisters against the clock.

I did cringe a bit when it described Nigel with the whole nail thing. Sounds horrible and poor Nigel was completely unprepared for such torture.

I watched the tv episode and liked Alleyn a lot more in that. I didn't think Nigel came off so well in the episode. I assume there was going to be a romantic moment between Nigel and Florence the maid, but it came across as him being a bit pervy to be honest. It was a little strange.

They made the niece the love interest for Alleyn in the tv episode rather than for Nigel as in the book. They called her Troy and she was quite likable and I think she continues to be Alleyn's love interest in later episodes.


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Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8950 comments Mod
Farrah, I think Alleyn becomes more likeable in the later books. Troy is his love interest in the books but only comes in later, but for the TV series they changed the order so she also featured in this one. You've made me want to watch it again, once I finish rereading that is!


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Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8950 comments Mod
I found myself wondering what The Death of Boris sounds like as I'm not an opera buff, after all the mentions of Tokareff singing it in the bathroom. I've just googled it and there are clips of it (from Boris Godunov by Mussorgsky) by on YouTube. I think it would be quite difficult to sing in the bath!!


Frances (francesab) | 384 comments I assumed that whole singing the death of Boris episode would have been some sort of false alibi-that they would find a turntable playing or some such-so was quite disappointed that that didn't happen!


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Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8950 comments Mod
Frances wrote: "I assumed that whole singing the death of Boris episode would have been some sort of false alibi-that they would find a turntable playing or some such-so was quite disappointed that that didn't hap..."

Frances, I think I thought so too the first time I read it - and I remember one of the other books I've recently read (I won't say which one) involved a fake alibi along these lines.


Doris (webgeekstress) | 40 comments Frances wrote: "I assumed that whole singing the death of Boris episode would have been some sort of false alibi-that they would find a turntable playing or some such-so was quite disappointed that that didn't hap..."
Yeah, that was my thinking, too. And yes, Judy, I think I know the one you mean.


Pages | 61 comments Yes, I thought that too. A turntable.
If they had a parrot in the house, I would have thought it was the parrot 😃


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Bev | 28 comments Sue wrote: "One phrase I didn’t understand was the description of Charles Rankin who had “one of those twisted smiles that always reminded Nigel of a faun” Am I missing something there?"

I tried googling to see what "faun smiling" might bring up.

description


Susan | 10021 comments Mod
That's quite scary, Bev ;)

I thought there was a lot of assumptions - you thought he was singing, but didn't realise he stopped. You thought Rankin was next door and didn't realise he had left the room... However, despite all of the bizarre happenings and sliding down bannisters, etc. I really loved it.


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Bev | 28 comments Susan wrote: "That's quite scary, Bev ;)

I thought there was a lot of assumptions - you thought he was singing, but didn't realise he stopped. You thought Rankin was next door and didn't realise he had left the..."


Yes--I enjoyed re-reading it. The first time I read it I was just getting my feet wet in vintage mysteries and thought it was really good. I didn't even notice how little you find out about Alleyn in this. Now that I've read them all and have a better sense of who Alleyn is I think it was a much better experience reading the first novel than if I had just come to Marsh now.


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Jill (dogbotsmum) | 2062 comments I agree with Susan. I think there are a lot of implausible happenings in books, but if the rest of the story clicks with you, you can enjoy it. I'm eager to see how Alleyn progresses in the series.


Susan | 10021 comments Mod
I am also eager to progress with the series. Just started the second book today :)


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Sue (mrskipling) | 250 comments Bev wrote: "I tried googling to see what "faun smiling" might bring up...."

Good thinking Sherlock! :-) I hadn't thought of that. Perhaps it was a contemporary cultural reference that means nothing to us now.

I can't see the picture in your post - must be my browser I guess - but when I googled I did come up with a reference to Picasso's smiling faun but that is dated 1948: https://www.redfern-gallery.com/exhib...


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Sue (mrskipling) | 250 comments Jill wrote: "I agree with Susan. I think there are a lot of implausible happenings in books, but if the rest of the story clicks with you, you can enjoy it. I'm eager to see how Alleyn progresses in the series."

I agree Jill. I just read The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins today. There are a couple of huge coincidences, without which the plot wouldn't work. But I was able to overlook the unlikelihood of these because I was enjoying the story so much.


Frances (francesab) | 384 comments Farrah wrote: "Yes, I thought that too. A turntable.
If they had a parrot in the house, I would have thought it was the parrot 😃"


Ooh, I like the parrot idea!


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