One of my favorite murder mystery novel writers is Edith Ngaio Marsh/Dame Ngaio Marsh DBE (1895-1982) of New Zealand. She is the author of 32 murder mystery novels–all whodunits–featuring the gentleman detective, Roderick Alleyn. She is one-fourth of the “Queens of Crime” of the golden age of the detective fiction era (the others being Agatha Christie, Margery Allingham, and Dorothy L. Sayers). Her name means “flowering tree.”
Born at Christchurch, she was educated at Saint Margaret’s College, Christchurch; and at the Canterbury University School of Art. She went on to become a theater actress with the Allan Wilkie company in New Zealand for two years. Afterwards, in 1928, she supervised a house-decorating business in London. Accordingly, it was during this time that she conceptualized and wrote her first novel, A Man Lay Dead (1934). She returned to New Zealand in 1932 and gave the manuscript for A Man Lay Dead to a publishing agent. It was then published two years later. From then on, she wrote her 31 other mystery novels:
- Enter a Murderer (1935)
- The Nursing Home Murder (1935)
- Death in Ecstasy (1936)
- Vintage Murder (1937)
- Artists in Crime (1938)
- Death in a White Tie (1938)
- Overture to Death (1939)
- Death at the Bar (1940)
- Surfeit of Lampreys (1941), published in the USA as Death of a Peer
- Death and the Dancing Footman (1942)
- Colour Scheme (1943)
- Died in the Wool (1945)
- Final Curtain (1947)
- Swing Brother Swing (1949), published in the USA as A Wreath for Rivera
- Opening Night (1951), published in the USA as Night at the Vulcan
- Spinsters in Jeopardy (1954), republished in the USA as The Bride of Death (1955)
- Scales of Justice (1955)
- Off With His Head (1957), published in the USA as Death of a Fool
- Singing in the Shrouds (1959)
- False Scent (1960)
- Hand in Glove (1962)
- Dead Water (1964)
- Death at the Dolphin (1967), published in the USA as Killer Dolphin
- Clutch of Constables (1968)
- When in Rome (1970)
- Tied Up in Tinsel (1972)
- Black As He’s Painted (1974)
- Last Ditch (1977)
- Grave Mistake (1978)
- Photo Finish (1980)
- Light Thickens (1982)
Her other works are:
- Roderick Alleyn short stories:
- Death on the Air (1936)
- I Can Find My Way Out (1946 – USA)
- Chapter and Verse: The Little Copplestone Mystery (1974 – USA)
- other stories:
- The Hand in the Sand (1953 – USA)
- The Cupid Mirror (1972)
- A Fool about Money (1973 – USA)
- Morepork (1979 – USA)
- Moonshine (1936 – New Zealand)
- Evil Liver
- My Poor Boy (1959)
- Death on the Air and Other Stories (first published in Great Britain by HarperCollinsPublishers in 1995) This book contains the Roderick Alleyn short stories and her other stories. It also includes two biographical essays on the fictional character, Roderick Alleyn; and his wife, Agatha Troy.
- non-fiction works:
- Black Beech and Honeydew (1965, autobiography)
- New Zealand (1968)
- Singing Land (1974)
Although she is acclaimed internationally for her writing, locally (in New Zealand) it is her contribution to the live theater industry that made her much more commended. Her work as a director and producer for amateur and professional theater helped her receive the honorary title, Dame Comamnder of the British Empire (DBE) in 1966.
Due to the popularity of her classic murder mysteries, she has been dubbed as the direct rival of Agatha Christie; and as a “grand master” of the Mystery Writers of America.
She has the gift…
—Erle Stanley Gardner
Others claim that she is better than Christie in terms of character development and dialogue.
She writes better than Christie.
—The New York Times
It’s time to compare Christie to Marsh instead of the other way around.
—Dilys Winn, New York Magazine
I have read some novels of both Marsh and Christie. Marsh outdoes Christie when it comes to writing per se, i.e., character development, dialogue, story development, description, etc. However, she fails where Christie triumphs: creative story development, having an easy but convoluted storyline, strong psychological suspense, & clever and flabbergasting plot twists. Personally, I prefer Christie but otherwise, I am a fan of both crime writers; basically, for the wonderful, classic mystery reads.
- ANON. April 25, 2009. Agatha Christie. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agatha_christie.
- ANON. April 19, 2009. Ngaio Marsh. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ngaio_Marsh.
- MARSH, N.1984. Colour Scheme, 2nd ed. 200 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10016: The Berkley Publishing Group.
- MARSH, N.1987. Death in a White Tie, 15th ed. 200 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10016: The Berkley Publishing Group.
- “Ngaio Marsh,” Microsoft Encarta Reference Library, 2003.