Sunday, November 08, 2009

Ngaoi Marsh: The Nursing Home Murder

This novel comes from the Diamond Anniversary Collection from HarperCollins, which means the novels come in sets of threes. I'd already read the first two, A Man Lay Dead and Enter A Murderer, which naturally meant that I was a little annoyed at having to lug around all those extra pages. (Especially since I actually own the first two.) Makes the book harder to hold with one hand, don't you know. On the upside though, the volume includes a great introduction by Ngaio Marsh herself on Roderick Alleyn (pronounced ALLEN thanks be to God for clearing that up for me!), and her first published short story (not crime). Very interesting! Ngaoi writes that when she created Alleyn she wanted to create an ordinary man, not one of these affected detectives that abound(ed) in crime fiction, the ones that are defined by their mannerisms and habits - but she admits that she failed a bit, at least at first. She ironed out those rough edges later. On the whole these Diamond editions seem like they might be worth collecting really, at least if they all contain freebies.

Oh, and unrelated but not, look at this blog, devoted solely to New Zealand crime fiction!

When I read The Nursing Home Murder I was first struck by how bad it was. I mean, considering. I was quite taken aback. The writing feels much more stilted and has less flow then the Marsh I'm used to. There were some odd things, like references, like footnotes, to the two earlier books - has this been added by teh publisher for this edition or was it like that all along? It's lame. And it has a theme that is very current for a book from 1935, namely forced sterilization and the "weeding out" of people with "undesirable genetic traits". Ring a bell? But at first this is mentioned as a matter of course, and I'm going oh sweet mother of God, Ngaio babe, are you PRO? But it sort of resolves towards the end. I mean, I'd be able to put this book in the contra faction. I don't remember the other two (which are from just before and just after this one) as being THAT poor, but possibly I was just starved for Marsh at the time.

The story is that a minister, responsible for a controversial new Bill (on sterilization, probably, but I don't think it's actually said outright), ignores a stomach ache and ends up in emergency surgery. He dies on the operating table, and the widow is convinced it was murder. Turns out that, actually, everyone present might have done it. Carrying on a theme from the previous two books we have the Communists lurking about in a revolutionary rage, and Nigel the journo as Alleyn's sidekick. Oh how glad I am that he was axed. Poor book, but readable if you're loyal and interested.

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