Thursday, 20 February 2020

Vintage Murder by Ngaio Marsh

Vintage Murder by Ngaio Marsh
Published in the UK by William Collins in 1937.

V for my 2020 Alphabet Soup Challenge, my 1930s read for my 2019-20 Decade Challenge, and a Classics Club book

How I got this book:
Swapped for on a campsite book exchange

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A touring theatre company in New Zealand forms the basis of one of Marsh’s most ambitious and innovative novels

New Zealand theatrical manager Alfred Meyer is planning a surprise for his wife's birthday - a jeroboam of champagne descending gently onto the stage after the performance. But, as Roderick Alleyn witnesses, something goes horribly wrong. Is the death the product of Maori superstitions - or something more down to earth?

I was sure I must have read an Ngaio Marsh novel before now, but - according to my Goodreads - Vintage Murder is my first. I hope, therefore, that I inadvertently picked up one of her lesser works because I'm sorry to say that I wasn't as impressed as I thought I would be. Vintage Murder is the fifth story featuring Scotland Yard Chief Inspector Roderick Alleyn who sends himself to New Zealand to recuperate from an unspecified injury - possibly inflicted during book four. Marsh doesn't go in for recapping previous novels. Alleyn is a bit of a fish out of water when he finds himself pushed to the forefront of a theatrical murder investigation. The local New Zealand police are unbelievably grateful that this posh English detective graces them with his expertise though. It's all very colonial - from an English perspective.

The mystery itself is suitably intriguing and I did enjoy reading the glimpses we get of New Zealand landscapes. (I hadn't realised that Marsh herself was from that country.) I did find the story itself a little dull though. There's an awful lot of repetitive chitchat and, for a troupe of theatricals, I found most of the characters to be unmemorably bland and interchangeable which is inconvenient when trying to decipher which one of them is a murderer! I was disappointed with the racism too although, as Vintage Murder was published in the 1930s, I probably should have expected it. However, Marsh repeatedly has characters mention racial colour-blindness being part of the New Zealand culture then has her sole Maori character 'behaving like a savage' when he loses his temper. White characters' violence, of course, does not merit a 'savage' descriptor.

Vintage Murder might well have been 'one of Marsh’s most ambitious and innovative novels' in 1937, but it felt rather too formulaic and pedestrian to me in 2020. Fortunately my copy was a free book exchange swap and I think I would try other Ngaio March paperbacks under the same circumstances, but I won't be rushing out to buy her entire back catalogue.

Etsy Find!
by Roo Waterhouse Art in
Hebden Bridge, England

Click pic to visit Etsy Shop

Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Ngaio Marsh / Crime fiction / Books from New Zealand


  1. Sorry to hear this one wasn't as good as you had hoped it would be.

    1. Classic crime novels do tend to be a bit hit and miss for me

  2. I have read three of Ngaio Marsh's novels and enjoyed them immensely, but this isn't one of the ones I have read. I would instead recommend Death and the Dancing Footman if you are thinking of trying another one by her. I am sorry that this one didn't work out for you though :(

    1. I'll take that recommendation!
      Other reviewers seem to have been underwhelmed by Vintage Murder too so I think I just picked a dud example of Marsh's work.

  3. Ah well at least this counts for your challenges!