Final Curtain (Ngaio Marsh)

By Ngaio Marsh

First published: UK, Collins, 1947; US, Little Brown, 1947

Blurb (UK)

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Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC

Agatha Troy, world famous portrait painter, eagerly awaiting the return after a long absence of her equally famous husband, Chief Detective-Inspector Roderick Alleyn, is inveigled into accepting a commission to paint the seventy-year-old Sir Henry Ancred, Bart., the Grand Old Man of the stage.   Just as she has completed her portrait a tragedy occurs and the old actor dies, making his first bow to death as dramatically as he ever took a final curtain in life – for the circumstances of his death are such that Scotland Yard in the person of Detective-Inspector Alleyn is called in.  Final Curtain is an outstanding detective story by one of the greatest living practitioners of the art.

Blurb (US)

Marsh - Final Curtain US.JPG
Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC

The publishers believe this is the best mystery novel Ngaio Marsh has ever written.

This is a story of Troy Allen, young and beautiful and famous, who painted a magnificent portrait of an actor great in his role of Macbeth, and who had a part in the last act he played of his life.

Troy had a part, but she was not of the theatre like others cast in Sir Henry Ancred’s drama.  She never confused the play with reality, and when the climax came she knew it was in dead earnest.

So she gave the case to her husband, Chief Inspector Roderick Alleyn.  For the rest of the act he took the centre of the stage, but she brought him good support!

Here are wit, atmosphere and style in a new mystery novel by Ngaio Marsh about fascinating people with whom two of your best friends, Mr. and Mrs. Rory Alleyn, are involved – an infallible recipe for reading pleasure!

My review

One of her best, on a level with Overture to Death. Alleyn being away in New Zealand, Troy accepts a commission to paint a portrait of Sir Henry Ancred, Bt., a famous actor whose private life is a mixture of Kings Cophetua and Lear’s, and becomes involved with his large and excessively temperamental family. The expected occurs: Sir Henry dies, apparently poisoned with arsenic, on the night he changes his will and quarrels with his family, and suspicion falls on the one person who benefits: the gold-digger fiancée.

What sets the book apart from others of its type are the characterisation, the detection, and Marsh’s ingenuity.  Tthe family, admittedly two-dimensional, are painted with all Marsh’s skill, and are markedly more convincing than the Lampreys, while Alleyn’s relationship with Troy is treated in a more mature fashion than in the earlier books, as Marsh escapes from the shadow of Sayers.  Alleyn thinks and reasons, showing every sign of being a devoted admirer of Dr. Thorndyke .

The well-constructed plot combines a murder for gain from which the culprit derives no benefit, and a good, original poisoning (anticipating Christie by twelve years). The fiend is well-hidden, but psychologically convincing.

Contemporary reviews

John O’London’s Weekly (Evelyn Banks, 2nd May 1947):

The chief characters in Ngaio Marsh’s Final Curtain suffer from nothing worse than eccentricity.  They are the family of an elderly and distinguished actor who is murdered shortly after having his portrait painted by Agatha Troy, wife of Chief Inspector Roderick Alleyn.  The story moves smoothly, as do all Miss Marsh’s, to a satisfactory climax.



A new Ngaio Marsh book is an event.  What a joy it is to find a detective story written with grace and culture, moving easily amongst well-observed characters.