By Ngaio Marsh and Henry Jellett
First published: UK, Bles, 1935; US, Sheridan, 1941
This is a story of murder in hospital—on the operation table. The victim “died as a result of an operation which, apart from this little incident, was a howling success”. The crime is almost theatrical – the operating theatre as centre stage, with ante-rooms as wings — and is solved by a “repeat performance,” the reconstruction providing Alleyn with his main clue.
Although the characterisation (apart from the preposterous Communist nurse) is reasonable, this is principally a puzzle of means and opportunity; the puzzle is paramount. It is, though, slow and heavy-going, and less engaging than, say, Christianna Brand’s classic Green for Danger.
The presence of an Anarchist brotherhood, aptly described as “a secondary theme in this bloody cantata,” gives a rather dated feel to the book.
The murderer is a psychological abnormality, with an original motive. SPOILER “Forced to the conclusion that most of the people who attempt to administer the government of this country are themselves certifiable,” he has taken to administering lethal doses of hyoscine—applied eugenics.
Observer (Torquemada, 26th January 1936):
Mr. Walling’s Tolefree one feels that one has known, and enjoyed the experience; Mrs. Marsh’s Chief Detective-Inspector Alleyn (not to be confused for a moment with Bruce Graeme’s erotic sleuth) one feels one would like to know. I would have given premier place this week to the charmingly written Nursing Home Murder, were it not for a flaw which must surely be apparent to the criminal mind of the average Reeder. Not only does Alleyn entirely ignore a perfectly good suspect, but so do Mrs. Marsh and Dr. Jellet. This grim, subcutaneous tale is so perfect otherwise that I cannot help wondering if, by chance, I am wrong and the authors are right. Women, by the way, are writing so well in the kind with which I have to do, that I would like to point out to publishers that it is unfair to leave it to the critic to give in marriage or to condemn to spinsterhood.