A Man Lay Dead

In 1931, on a wet day in London, Ngaio Marsh finished reading an Agatha Christie or Dorothy L. Sayers murder mystery, and wondered if she could write something similar. She plodded down the road to a stationers, dripped her way back home, and then produced this A man lay dead, the very first Inspector Alleyn mystery, first published in 1934.

The edition I read, a trilogy of the first three Alleyn mysteries and an early short story, was published for Alleyn's Diamond Jubilee, and contains a fascinating introduction by Marsh detailing the birth of Roderick Alleyn. The Christie/Sayers connection is very important, they are clearly huge influences on her first novel. There is a little of Lord Peter Wimsey in Alleyn, and a lot of Agatha Christie in the country house murder and death by a dagger with exotic connections. There's also a touch of Saxe Rohmer and other adventure stories of the day with a troupe of Russian anarchists who have to be arrested before the murderer can be revealed.

The Russian anarchists I found tedious, the murder was clever, although the unmasking of the murderer was not terribly convincing, but, not bad for a first effort, and as Marsh was to prove, Alleyn was to become a great stalwart of detective fiction, with some truly brilliant novels from his creator. It's a fun read, not terrifically believable, but great to read on a lazy day.


Popular Posts