Sunday, October 16, 2022

Vintage Murder by Ngaio Marsh

Novelist draws on her love for New Zealand and the theatre

Vintage Murder begins as Roderick Alleyn makes a train journey across New Zealand
Vintage Murder begins as Roderick Alleyn
makes a train journey across New Zealand 
Ngaio Marsh transports her upper class, English sleuth, Roderick Alleyn, to her native New Zealand in Vintage Murder, her fifth novel to feature the Scotland Yard detective.

Alleyn is on holiday while recovering from an operation and the story begins as he makes a long journey by train across New Zealand. On the train, he encounters a travelling theatrical troupe and among them is Susan Max, a character actress he had met in Enter a Murderer, Ngaio’s second novel. The detective had encountered the actress while he was investigating a murder that occurred on stage during the performance of a play at a West End theatre.

He gets talking to different members of the troupe, which is run by Incorporated Playhouses, and it is not far into the story when Alfred Meyer, the owner of Incorporated Playhouses, who is married to the leading lady, Carolyn Dacres, reveals to Alleyn that someone has tried to push him off the train.

After the train has arrived at its destination, Carolyn invites Alleyn to see the first night of the play and to her birthday celebrations with the rest of the company on the stage afterwards. At the party, as a surprise for his wife, Meyer has arranged for a jeroboam of champagne to descend gently on to the dinner table from above, but something goes horribly wrong and the theatrical manager is killed.

The latest HarperCollins edition of Ngaio Marsh's Vintage Murder
The latest HarperCollins edition
of Ngaio Marsh's Vintage Murder
It soon becomes obvious that the mechanism set up for the stunt has been tampered with and Alleyn is invited by the local police to sit in on their investigation. He sets aside his holiday plans to try to help them catch the murderer.

Vintage Murder, which was published in 1937, enables Ngaio Marsh to describe the scenery of her homeland as seen through Alleyn’s eyes. He meets a Māori doctor, Rangi Te Pokiha, and buys a Māori fertility pendant, a ‘tiki’, which plays an important part in the plot.

Vintage Murder was one of four Alleyn novels adapted for New Zealand television in 1977, when the role of Alleyn was played by the actor George Baker.

Ngaio’s inspiration for the travelling theatrical troupe was the Alan Wilkie Company, which she was once a part of, so it is not surprising that the characters and their behaviour come across as so real in the story.

The story does consist of a long series of interviews conducted by Alleyn along with the New Zealand police officers, which many on line reviewers have complained about, but I still think it is a well written novel that presents a good mystery for the armchair detective to try to solve, and I would recommend it.

Vintage Murder is available from or




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