Tuesday, August 21, 2012

N is for Night at the Vulcan

Back in 2003, I read the first 15 mysteries by Ngaio Marsh featuring Inspector Roderick Alleyn. I started in late September and finished up in late November. I don't know why I stopped there, but I must have enjoyed most of them to read them all in two months.

This week I finished the next book in the series, Night at the Vulcan. I was glad that I had returned to the series, rediscovering Alleyn, his colleagues, and the charming writing of Ngaio Marsh.

From the Goodreads page for Ngaio Marsh:
Of all the "Great Ladies" of the English mystery's golden age, including Margery Allingham, Agatha Christie, and Dorothy L. Sayers, Ngaio Marsh alone survived to publish in the 1980s. Over a fifty-year span, from 1932 to 1982, Marsh wrote thirty-two classic English detective novels, which gained international acclaim. She did not always see herself as a writer, but first planned a career as a painter.
Marsh was also very involved in the theater, and several of her novels center around art and artists or theatrical productions. Early the series, in Artists in Crime, Alleyn meets noted artist Agatha Troy, and they later marry. Besides Night at the Vulcan, these other books involve actors and acting: Enter a Murderer, Vintage Murder, Overture to Death, Death at the Dolphin, and Light Thickens. Ngaio Marsh was born in New Zealand. She lived both in England and New Zealand, and some of the novels are set in New Zealand or feature characters from New Zealand.

I am featuring this book as my selection for the Crime Fiction Alphabet for 2012 for the letter N.  Please visit the post at Mysteries in Paradise to check out other entries.

My thoughts on this book:

This was a very enjoyable vintage mystery novel. The story is pretty much equally divided between setting up the scene and arriving at the murder, followed by the detection and solution of the murder. The murder does not even occur until halfway through the story and this time, Alleyn and his team don’t show up until then also.

The story is set in the theater, and revolves around the arrival of a young, aspiring actress who is without funds and desperate for any job in the acting company. Martyn Tarne has recently arrived in England from New Zealand. The story of Martyn’s acceptance into the acting company was delightful and fun. A nice change from some of the more serious mysteries I read. I am a sucker for a romance in a story, whether it is believable or not. The descriptions and characterization of other participants in the company (actors, author of the play, director, costumers) were entertaining. There were snarky characters and loveable characters.

In this mystery, the story building up to the murder is better than the detection half of the book. In the first half of the book, the pacing is good; the story builds, the tension builds. The tensions between the characters are evident. The reader knows it is going to come to a head and someone will die. Who will it be? But when the police come on the scene the pacing slows; there are dead spots. I had picked out the murderer early on, but I had the motive entirely wrong, and by the time I was a good way into the book, I had decided I had to be wrong.

Here are a few other resources on the mysteries of Ngaio Marsh that I found entertaining and useful:


Anonymous said...

Tracy - I'm so glad you featured some of Ngaio Marsh's work. I've always liked her skill at creating characters and integrating humour without her novels being too silly. You're quite right too about the influence of the theatre on her life and work. Your post is making me want to read this again :-).

Scott said...

Good choice. Another classic. :)

Peggy Ann said...

One of hers I haven't read! Sounds very good. Thanks for the little extra with links to visit, Tracy.

Peter Reynard said...

Marsh has been on my to-read list for a while now. I feel a palpable excitement when I think about the fact that there is an entire set of good mysteries to be read.

srivalli said...

I read Marsh's Colour Scheme last year and enjoyed it. I will be reading more of her books.

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

Hi TacyK - it's interesting that you point to the first half being the more interesting because that has always been my impression about Marsh's output in general, that I always enyoyed the scene setting but then got a bit bogged down once the investigation got underway.

CLM said...

This is one of her best, as I recall. I especially like the theater settings, knowing that was her background too.

Years ago I spent a year clerking for a judge who primarily read nonfiction but had enjoyed some classic mysteries. I wanted him to try Ngaio Marsh but bought him a copy of Artists in Crime which I figured was near the beginning of the series and introduces Troy. He did not like it at all and when I reread it, I decided it was one of the weakest. Lesson: when introducing someone to a new series, either start at the beginning or be very sure you are picking the right book or you could lose your book recommending reputation forever! The other fiction I gave him was a WEB Griffin, one of my guilty pleasures and he found the writing and language appalling. Now I only give him history books and he is much happier.

TracyK said...

Constance, I like theater settings in general, and I like Ngaio Marsh's books in that setting especially. (Have you ever tried the Charles Paris books by Simon Brett?) I think that is why I can picture this plot even now. In 2003 I read 15 of Marsh's books, beginning from #1 in the series. Then for some reason I stopped until I read this book, and now I still have some of her books to read.

Nice story about looking for an introduction to Marsh for the judge. That is always hard to do.