The Nursing Home Murder

The third novel in Ngaio Marsh's Inspector Alleyn sequence is, I think, one of her weakest, I also found it quite an uncomfortable read. A politician dies in a private hospital during an operation to remove his appendix. What at first appears to be a result of his illness turns out to be death by hyoscine (still quite a well known poison in the 1930s following Crippen's own despatch of his wife by the poison). Alleyn is brought in to investigate and finds that there are plenty of suspects ranging from anarchist nurses to aggrieved lovers and potential lovers of lovers. A reconstruction however exposes the murderer, and law and order is restored again.

I did rather struggle with this one. The operating theatre scenes are pretty good, Ngaio Marsh's love for the theatre as in drama transfers easily to a rather different theatre, and the scenes there are generally quite believable. Other sections don't work so well, as with her first novel there are various Anarchist/Russian groups wandering around threatening to destroy society. They are just completely over the top, cartoon Trotskyists, who are either portrayed as mad or stupid - I did find this, as I did in A man lay dead really irritating.

And there are some attitudes of the times that I struggled with too. The lovers, or would-be lovers, were plain annoying - the kinds of fictional characters that you would love to slap. More seriously one of the characters is into eugenics in a big way, and it is generally treated in this novel as though it is "a good thing". I'm aware that eugenics was seen in this way in the 1930s, but when you consider where it would end up going in the 1940s, it does make for repulsive reading.

As a novel it's an interesting insight into British middle class attitudes in the 1930s. It's clearly been an influential novel, not least on Christianna Brand's excellent Green for Danger, but as far as Ngaio Marsh is concerned it's not one of her best.


Aarti said…
I read A Man Lay Dead by Marsh and didn't really enjoy it. I thought it was very dated and I agree- some of the insights into characters' minds are a bit TOO illuminating and terrifying...

Popular Posts