As an avid reader of both cozy mysteries and Agatha Christie, I am ashamed to admit that I only discovered Ngaio Marsh because of Benedict Cumberbatch. Three of her novels have been made into audiobooks read by BC, and because I had listened to, and enjoyed, them I went ahead and picked up A Man Lay Dead, the first of the Roderick Alleyn mysteries.
Side note: Don’t bother with the TV show. I wasn’t impressed at all.
Marsh is one of the “four queens of crime” who wrote during England’s “golden age” of mystery (despite being born and living in New Zealand all her life): she was declared a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America, and she won a number of other accolades and awards. And all of that to say: Probably none of those things were a result of this particular book.
A Man Lay Dead begins with a young newspaperman being escorted by his cousin up to a country estate for a weekend of games; a party, as it turns out, where the host intends them to play at Murder.
Pity someone decided they weren’t just playing.
The characters aren’t as deftly described as in some of Marsh’s later books, but they are still more than cyphers. Nigel Bathgate, in particular, serves a partial role as Watson to Detective Chief-Inspector Roderick Alleyn’s quietly understated Holmes. Along with Angela Wilde, another of the guests at the party and quite a fast driver, the three make a tidy little crime-solving unit. Necessary, since they’re dealing with the Russian Mafiya (though not the modern version), the British Gentry, and affairs both consummated and un.
In the end, they solve the puzzle, of course, but I shan’t spoil the turns they take getting there.
Not-quite locked-room mystery, and a bit formulaic. But a good introduction to Marsh, and worth reading for those who enjoy cozy mysteries, Agatha Christie, or Lord Peter Whimsey.