When in Rome (Marsh)

  • By Ngaio Marsh
  • First published: UK: Collins, 1970; US: Little Brown, 1971

Roderick Alleyn visits Italy, and encounters a plot straight out of a Fellini movie (La dolce vita is mentioned a few times), complete with drugs, “infamous” sex parties, blackmail, incest, student riots, and corruption in the titled set.  As usual with Marsh, the lead-up to the murder is stronger than the detection, which is solid but not inspired.  Has a clever alibi, and Alleyn, for once, lets justice be extra-legal.

Contemporary reviews

Times Literary Supplement (1st January 1971):

The reason why Miss Marsh’s delightful detective stories hardly date is that she is such a very good light-story teller.  One needn’t even be interested in solving a difficult case of drug-trafficking, unusual blackmail and murder to enjoy this tale of luxury sightseeing in Rome with a tormented author, a strangely Etruscan pair of Dutch spouses, a horrible major, a pretty girl, Roderick Alleyn, and the dominating Corvoesque ghoul.  This is as prettily pleasing a story as Miss Marsh has given us.

A Catalogue of Crime (Barzun & Taylor, 1989): The flame still burns steady and strong.  The writing is elegant and Det. Supt. Alleyn is impressive as he works with the Roman police in a case of double murder set in an ancient basilica.  Blackmail is neatly interwoven with the activities of “Il Cicerone”, who operates superdeluxe tours of Roman high and low spots.  The participants in one of these excursions form the group of skilfully depicted suspects, including a remarkable brother-and-sister pair.