NGAIO MARSH – Spinsters in Jeopardy

St. Martinís, paperback reprint; 1st printing, November 1998. First edition (UK): Collins Crime Club, 1954. First edition (US): Little, Brown & Co., 1953. Digest paperback: Mercury Press, 1955, as The Bride of Death (abridged). Other paperback reprints: Berkley, 1961, and Jove, 1980, each with several followup printings.

MARSH Spinsters in Jeopardy

   Among the list of mystery authors who are considered as being among the best at what they did or currently do, Ngaio Marsh is the one Iíve perhaps most neglected. Before reading Spinsters in Jeopardy over these past few evenings, I have to confess that Iíd read no more than two of her mystery novels, totaling 32 in all, not a very high percentage. In all 32 of her mysteries was Inspector (later Superintendent) Roderick Alleyn, whose career at Scotland Yard lasted from 1934 (A Man Lay Dead) to 1982 (Light Thickens), quite a long time in anyoneís book.

   This particular edition, the one recently published by St. Martinís, was part of quite a publishing feat, and they should be commended for it. Back in the late 90s, St. Martinís put out all 32 novels with uniform covers and in chronological order. (If only someone would do they same for other authors I (or you) could think of, but as far as I’m concerned, Rex Stoutís Nero Wolfe books come to mind first, now that Bantam seems to have let them drop.)

MARSH Spinsters in Jeopardy

   But to return to Ngaio Marsh and me, I donít know why it is that Iíve not read her work any more often than I have. Iíve read a lot of Agatha Christie, for example, and Marsh seems to have been Christie with personality, someone may have said, or if they didnít, maybe they should have. For me, Marsh has been one of those authors whose work has always been available, so perhaps there hasnít been any urgency in picking one of her books up to read.

   Unfortunately, Spinsters in Jeopardy wasn’t the first one I should have picked up to read in quite a while, since I don’t believe that it’s in any way typical of Marsh’s other mysteries. Itís a thriller, first of all, and not a detective story, even though Inspector Alleyn is in it, and soís his wife, the former Agatha Troy, the famous artist heíd met and wooed in previous adventures, along with their precocious six-year-old son Ricky.

   All three are in France, in part on a vacation trip to meet Troyís cousin, whom she’s never met; and in part business, as Alleyn has been assigned an undercover liaison job with the French authorities trying to crack down on a narcotics gang operating in the very same area.

MARSH Spinsters in Jeopardy

   A bad idea — using his family as cover on a criminal assignment, that is. Alleyn is required to assist on an emrgency appendectomy operation for a woman who had been on the same train they were on, in the heart of the enemyís strong stronghold, the Ch‚teau de la Chťvre díArgent. Ricky is kidnapped and luckily found, but a book in which not only drugs but a vicious religio-erotic racket is the central focus is probably not a book for a young lad to be in anyway.

   Ngaio Marsh does manage to make the scenes in which Ricky appears as light-hearted as possible, mitigating against that particular discomfort, but the rest of the occult-based plot, with its mystical (and apparently) deadly rituals, is not one thatís designed to lead to any sense of ease on the readerís part. Not that thereís anything wrong with mystical rituals, of course, but there didnít seem to be any need to witness them as far as Alleyn does, which is to nearly their conclusion. Not in a detective mystery, which once again I remind you, this one was not, except at the very end, when it was all but too late.

   As a thriller, there are simply too many coincidences to contemplate, and the villains, as successful as they are, are simply too dumb to survive, especially once Alleynís ire is fully aroused and heís well on their trail. All in all, although not without some interest, this is not one of Marshís best books, Iím sure.

MARSH Spinsters in Jeopardy