Why I don’t want to be in a Ngaio Marsh
I have finished my Ngaio Marsh binge. I have not read all of them – nor do I intend to – but I have read a lot, around twenty. And a couple of things stand out. One is that by the end of my marathon read, I had a pretty good idea who the culprit would be, not merely by deduction, but by my knowledge of the kind of person who would NOT have committed the crime in a Ngaio Marsh novel. In this she is quite unlike Agatha Christie. In a Christie novel, ANYONE might have done it, absolutely anyone. No-one is exempt – the love interest, the most likeable character, a child, even the narrator . . .
Another thing that occurs to me is that a Ngaio Marsh novel is not a good place to be if one is, well, shall we say, a woman of a certain age? And to be a spinster is to court disaster. No unmarried woman over about forty-five is allowed to be attractive or be interested in the opposite sex. That is considered grotesque: I am thinking here of novels like Overture to Death and Dead Water. As a widow perhaps I’d be OK. Or perhaps not. There is another type of older woman in Marsh’s novels: the woman who is losing her looks (mutton dressed as lamb) and has it in for younger, more attractive women. Mary Bellamy in False Scent is a splendid example of that.
Agatha Christie was certainly capable of poking fun at people, but she didn’t regard older women as beyond the pale. There is Miss Marple, for a start . . . and Christie was sympathetic, I feel, to the situation of the older single woman. To name the novel I have in mind would be a spoiler, but if I simply say ‘teashop’, those who have read it will know what I mean.
No, if I had to choose, I’d rather be in a novel by Agatha Christie. Even bearing in mind that I might turn out to be the murderer. But better than that, on reflection, would be a Dorothy L. Sayers novel. I am thinking of the academic women in Gaudy Night and the splendid Miss Climpson. Yes, if I had to be in a Golden Age Crime novel, that would be a much better bet.