Ngaio Marsh

Marsh - photo.jpg

Born: 23 April 1885, Christchurch, New Zealand

Died: 18 February 1982, Christchurch, New Zealand


Ngaio Marsh, a New Zealander, was considered one of the “Crime Queens” from the late 1930s.

Marsh maintained a high level of quality, without ever being brilliant.  Her books are traditional puzzle plot mysteries, with strong detection and plot mechanics, but they lack Agatha Christie or John Dickson Carr‘s SURPRISE! solutions.

She’s a witty, stylish writer, with a painter’s eye for people and places, and a theatre director’s ear for characterisation and dialogue.  There’s more snob appeal, though, than in most of her contemporaries; contemporary blurbs emphasised the novels’ wit and high society settings.  Many of her books involve actors or are set in the theatre, which Marsh knew first-hand.

All her detective stories feature Roderick Alleyn of Scotland Yard, who’s charming, sophisticated, and fastidious.  One critic called him “ladylike”, and most male readers will find Alleyn something of a prig.

Best works

  • Artists in Crime (1938)
  • Overture to Death (1939)
  • Death at the Bar (1940)
  • Death and the Dancing Footman (1941)
  • Colour Scheme (1943)
  • Final Curtain (1947)
  • Singing in the Shrouds (1958)


  1. A Man Lay Dead (1934) *
  2. Enter a Murderer (1935) ***
  3. The Nursing-home Murder (1935; with Henry Jellett) **
  4. Death in Ecstasy (1936)
  5. Vintage Murder (1937) **
  6. Artists in Crime (1938)
  7. Death in a White Tie (1938) ***
  8. Overture to Death (1939) *****
  9. Death at the Bar (1940) *****
  10. Surfeit of Lampreys (1941; published in the US, 1940, as Death of a Peer) ****
  11. Death and the Dancing Footman (1941)
  12. Colour Scheme (1943) ***(+)
  13. Died in the Wool (1945)
  14. Final Curtain (1947) *****
  15. Swing, Brother, Swing (1949; published in the US as A Wreath for Rivera) ***
  16. Opening Night (1951; published in the US as Night at the Vulcan) ***
  17. Spinsters in Jeopardy (1953)
  18. Scales of Justice (1955) ****
  19. Off With His Head (1957; published in the US, 1956, as Death of a Fool)
  20. Singing in the Shrouds (1958) ****
  21. False Scent (1959) ***
  22. Hand in Glove (1962) **
  23. Dead Water (1963)
  24. Death at the Dolphin (1967; published in the US, 1966, as Killer Dolphin) **
  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 (1977) *
  30. Grave Mistake (1978)
  31. Photo-Finish (1980) **
  32. Light Thickens (1982)

What they say…

‘The claim Miss Ngaio Marsh makes upon the attention of the intelligent reader depends not only on her ingenuity and power of construction but even more on her gifts of style, characterisation and narrative, that allow her to rank as a novelist of distinction.’ – E.R. Punshon in The Manchester Guardian

‘I can find no point at which Ngaio Marsh does not equal the best of the all-rounders.’ – Torquemada in The Observer

‘Ngaio Marsh ranks with Dorothy Sayers and Agatha Christie.’ – Truth

‘This author’s chief merit is that her stories are not only sound thrillers, they are also good novels based on characters who are excellent company.’ – George Bishop in the Daily Telegraph

‘There is no doubt that Ngaio Marsh is among the most brilliant of those authors who are transforming the detective story from a mere puzzle into a novel with many other qualities besides the challenge to our wits.’ – Times Literary Supplement