Category Archives: Marsh, Ngaio

Colour Scheme by Ngaio Marsh

Colour SchemeColour Scheme
by Ngaio Marsh
Rating: ★★★½
Series: Inspector Alleyn #12
Publication Date: January 1, 1943
Genre: mystery
Pages: 304
Project: golden age mystery, inspector alleyn files

A spa-goer resorts to murder.

Even down in New Zealand, war-fueled spy fever is running wild. Near the decaying sulphur springs of Colonel and Mrs. Claire, the strange lights and signals being sent to foreign ships at sea mean there's a spy in their midst. Soon an even darker sign appears--a health-seeker with untoward intentions meets his demise in the mud baths. And when a new arrival appears, one who possesses the cunning of a criminal and the insight of a psychologist, can Scotland Yard's Inspector Roderick Alleyn be far behind?


I don’t think that this one is going to end up as a favorite, although it was an entertaining read.

It’s set in New Zealand, while Inspector Alleyn is overseas during the war, so there’s no Troy to be found. The main plot occurs in a boarding house/thermal spa, run by the Claire family – Colonel Claire and his wife are retired Anglo-Indians with a bit of a superiority complex, which creates problems for their daughter, Barbara and son, Simon. Mrs. Claire’s brother, Dr. Acrington, also lives at the spa and is a hoot. He and Barbara were probably my favorite characters.

There are various guests and staff at the spa, including Maurice Questing, who is a suspected spy and all around loathsome hanger-on. Questing is reviled by pretty much everyone, and seems to have some unexplained hold over Colonel Claire which he is using to manipulate the Claires. A well-known Shakespearean actor, Geoffrey Gaunt, shows up with his secretary, Dikon Bell, and valet, which creates more tension, as Gaunt, Dikon Bell and Questing all vie for the attentions of the increasingly lovely Barbara.

The characterizations in this one are really interesting, but the mystery itself is meh. I also absolutely dispute that the clues were sufficient for anyone to figure out the solution to the murder, which occurs very late in the book. The other quirk of the book I figured out immediately.

The Inspector Alleyn mysteries project

Since January, I’ve checked out & read several of the Inspector Alleyn mysteries. I’ve really enjoyed all of them, although some more than others, as is often the case. I’ve read enough of them now that it’s time to call them a “project” and put some organization behind it.


    1. A Man Lay Dead, 1934
    2. Enter a Murderer, 1935
    3. The Nursing Home Murder, 1935
    4. Death in Ecstasy, 1936
    5. Vintage Murder, 1937
    6. Artists in Crime, 1938 (currently reading)
    7. Death in a White Tie, 1938
    8. Overture to Death, 1939
    9. Death at the Bar, 1940
    10. Death of a Peer, 1940
    11. Death and the Dancing Footman, 1941
    12. Colour Scheme, 1943
    13. Died in the Wool, 1945
    14. Final Curtain, 1947
    15. A Wreath for Rivera, 1949
    16. Night at the Vulcan, 1951
    17. Spinsters in Jeopardy, 1953
    18. Scales of Justice, 1955
    19. Death of a Fool, 1957
    20. Singing in the Shrouds, 1958
    21. False Scent, 1959
    22. Hand in Glove, 1962
    23. Dead Water, 1963
    24. Killer Dolphin, 1966
    25. Clutch of Constables, 1968
    26. When in Rome, 1970
    27. Tied Up in Tinsel, 1972
    28. Black as He’s Painted, 1974
    29. Last Ditch, 1976
    30. Grave Mistake, 1978
    31. Photo Finish, 1980
    32. Light Thickens, 1982

I have actually read more than them than I had realized before making the list. I’m not reading them in any specific order the first time through, but I will likely read them in publication order as a reread project at some point.

Final Curtain by Ngaio Marsh

Final CurtainFinal Curtain
by Ngaio Marsh
Rating: ★★★★½
Series: Inspector Alleyn #14
Publication Date: December 1, 1947
Genre: mystery
Pages: 308

Troy Alleyn, Inspector Roderick Alleyn's beautiful young wife, is engaged to paint a portrait of Sir Henry Ancred, famed Shakespearean actor and family patriarch, but she senses all is not well in the dreary castle of Ancreton. When old Henry is found dead after a suspicious dinner and an unfortunate family fracas, Troy enlists the impeccable aid of her husband to determine who among a cast of players would have a motive for murder -- and the theatrical gift to carry it out.

This was the second of my Ngaio Marsh October mystery trifecta. I have said elsewhere that I can’t pick a favorite, but that’s a lie. This one was my favorite. The other two that I read were Night at the Vulcan (already reviewed) and Death at the Dolphin, and they were really good, but this one was just right up my alley.

That’s probably because I love the classic country house mystery, which is what this is, while I am rather lukewarm, as it turns out, on theater settings, which were featured in Night at the Vulcan and Death at the Dolphin. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy them, but they just weren’t so completely my jam.

If you are a fan of dysfunctional families with controlling patriarchs who end up being murdered, this is a good one! The similarities to the Leonides, from Crooked House, or the Lee family, from Hercule Poirot’s Christmas, or the Herriards, from Envious Casca (which has been reprinted as A Christmas Party) by Georgette Heyer, are omnipresent.

Even with those similarities, Marsh keeps the mystery fresh, with some really interesting characters – many of whom share the word “poisonous” with the selected weapon of death. Cedric, the presumed heir is particularly unappealing. I mentally picture him looking like Cillian Murphy – physically attractive, but somehow still repellent (Murphy’s turn as Scarecrow in Batman Begins ruined him for me; sorry Cillian).

Plus, this book has the side-benefit of focusing – for the first 50% – on Alleyn’s very interesting and accomplished wife, Agatha Troy. She has found herself in the center of a deeply unpleasant series of family scenes, as she has agreed to paint a portrait of the aging, irascible patriarch. Inspector Alleyn has been absent in connection with his war work and is expected home shortly, and she is also worrying about whether they will be able to pick up the threads of their marriage. I really liked this element.

Well, the figure was completed. There were some further places she must attend to—a careful balancing stroke here and here. She was filled with a great desire that her husband should see it. It was satisfactory, Troy thought, that of the few people to whom she wished to show her work her husband came first. Perhaps this was because he said so little yet was not embarrassed by his own silence.

I feel like I know more about Alleyn after reading this book than in all of the prior books of the series that I’ve finished.

Night at the Vulcan by Ngaio Marsh

Night At The VulcanNight At The Vulcan
by Ngaio Marsh
Rating: ★★★★
Series: Inspector Alleyn #16
Publication Date: December 1, 1951
Genre: mystery
Pages: 236
Project: a century of women

A London actor was dying for a star billing...

From the leading lady's liaison to the harassment of an aging juvenile lead-there's never a dull moment, darling, at the Vulcan Theatre. But vanity and hysterics, suspicion and superstition, brandy and jealousy, are upstaged by a death on opening night. Was it really suicide? Or a macabre encore to a long-ago murder in the same backstage room? Scotland Yard's cast of suspects for the final curtain.

This was the third in a trifecta of Ngaio Marsh theatrical mysteries that I read this month. I likd all of them a lot – I don’t think I could pick a favorite.

One thing that I have noticed about Marsh over the course of a few books is that she takes her time setting up both her murders and the entry of Inspector Alleyn. I don’t mind this, although it might be a deal breaker for some readers.

Night at the Vulcan is set in the Vulcan theater, which has reopened after being closed for several years after being the site of a murder. The book opens with Martyn Tarne, a 19 year old woman from New Zealand who has taken a job as dresser for the star of the play, Helena Hamilton. Martyn is distantly related to the owner/manager of the refurbished theater, Adrian Poole, who is also Ms. Hamilton’s erstwhile lover.

There are lots of seething undercurrents between all of the actors, playwright and producers as they prepare for the opening night of a new play. On opening night, the leading man, Clark Bennington, declining actor and husband to Ms. Hamilton, seems to commit suicide within minutes after the play concludes to great acclaim.

The book itself occurs over the course of about 4 days, with the setting basically confined to the theater, with a few scenes happening at the home of one of the characters who takes Martyn in and allows her to stay at his house because she is dead broke. It would have been terrific adapted to the theater. Overall, 4 stars.