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Because what the Net really needs is another person sharing his uninformed views
Book review: A Man Lay Dead 
28th-Oct-2011 05:55 pm
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Unlikely as it seems, the writer who had the biggest effect on my life, for better or worse, was probably the New Zealand crime writer Ngaio Marsh. Though I subsequently lost my taste for them, in my teens whodunnits were my favourite genre, and Marsh by far my favourite writer. One of the first I read, when I was probably about 12 and had chicken pox, was actually her last novel, Light Thickens. It was set behind the scenes of a production of Macbeth and I got so involved in the book that I became interested in the play, and wanted to see a production. As luck would have it the next time we came to London the RSC had a production at the Barbican, which I loved, and which set me off on a love of theatre that, readers of this blog might have noticed, is still a bit of theme for me. So the late Dame Ngaio was influential in an unexpected way. (My mum always claims lending me her copy was a deliberate ploy to get me interested in Shakespeare. This is all lies, because it was actually the second Marsh book she gave me, the first being Last Ditch. So unless she'd hoped I'd get interested in horses as well, or had a surprisingly long-term plan that involved slowly building up to Light Thickens, she's talking bollocks.)

So in among "crime week" in the Times' book giveaway from a couple of years ago was Marsh's first novel, A Man Lay Dead. (She would had hated to know that this was being offered as an introduction to her work as she'd tried to get the book withdrawn after she'd written more in the series; she was embarrassed by the very silly solution to the mystery, and called the book "A Man-laid Egg.") Given that, I wasn't too surprised not to find her as irresistible as I did in my teens, it's a decent enough little country house mystery but the detective, DCI Alleyn, isn't recognisable as the character he later became (and whose creator famously fell in love with) and yes, the denouement is very silly - although so silly you kind of have to admire her for trying it.
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