There’s stuff to like about A Surfeit of Lampreys; the character portraits, the commentary on the family, the fact that it brings in Bathgate and ties some of that stuff together… but overall, I’ve totally lost my motivation to read Ngaio Marsh’s books. There’s a same-y feel to them, the characters aren’t nearly as brilliant as, say, Dorothy L. Sayers’, and it comes out feeling a little too heavy and flat, with not enough payoff. The mysteries are intricate, but everything just unravels so slowly.
I know other people think Ngaio Marsh is amazing, and I did enjoy some of the earlier books, but Inspector Alleyn feels kind of stale now.
I don’t quite understand people who like Marsh’s books as much as, say, Dorothy L. Sayers’. Alleyn just doesn’t have the same depth of characterisation as Wimsey, and while the character of Troy is quite fun, she doesn’t seem to have come into it as much as Harriet. It is true that Wimsey books go buy without Harriet, though usually there’s Parker and Bunter, the Dowager Duchess and plenty of other supporting characters who pop up repeatedly. In these books, it seems to often be just Alleyn and Fox, and the possibilities of that partnership are limited.
The mystery itself is… okay. It takes some time to build up a set of characters to theorise about first (though I hope they’re not intended to be likeable as such, because most of them are not), which at least adds a bit of interest; I do like the way crime/mystery stories can be used as a character study. I found the ending ridiculously drawn out; enough red herrings, let’s have the culprit, please.
I think Ngaio Marsh’s books, properly spaced out, will keep me entertained well enough, but I’m probably going to avoid reading them back to back. They’re just too dry, and Alleyn isn’t enough of a person to me.
It’s a solidly entertaining mystery, I suppose, aware of the genre and making sly little jokes at its expense. It doesn’t really sparkle, though; I felt that the culprit was made obvious by their behaviour, and not just because they acted guilty — also because they had that whole cliché Freudian repressed sexuality going on, which seems to crop up in crime fiction of that period far too much. Gaudy Night is another example, though it does sparkle, because of the character development that’s going on too. In this one, despite his engagement, and the appearance of some regular characters, it isn’t really about Alleyn or development of him or the minor characters. In fact, the POV characters are pretty much two young lovers who we may not even see again.
The repressed sexuality stuff is worthy of an eyeroll, but the machinations of the murder set-up are quite interesting to follow. It gets a bit repetitive, and does that irritating holding-back-of-details that means you can’t solve the crime for yourself (or, in this case, be sure about it), but as a murder mystery it’s alright. I just hope somebody kicks Alleyn into a higher gear…
Do you listen to audiobooks/Have you listened to an audiobook in the past? What books? Do you enjoy audiobooks? Why or why not? Are there certain genres that you feel might lend themselves better to being read in audiobook form?
Audiobooks! I love listening to audiobooks, particularly while I’m crocheting or doing something else that similarly occupies my hands but not (too much of) my mind. For a long time I was just listening to the BBC adaptations of Dorothy L. Sayers’ work, and the mammoth set that is The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings: I’m now supplementing that with a bit of Ngaio Marsh read by Benedict Cumberbatch, and I have some other books on the queue: some Iain (M.) Banks, one of Chris Holm’s, Trudi Canavan… I love the BBC audioplays of most things best: they do great casting, and they have a great range of stuff. My favourite was probably the adaptation of The Dark is Rising. It’s different, but I can accept that, because that’s what adaptations have to do. (Same reason as I reluctantly accept Faramir being less noble in The Lord of the Rings movie, because the reasoning makes sense. Also why I accept that some people will enjoy The Hobbit film, but I don’t: it’s an adaptation, and I can accept why they’ve done it that way, it just doesn’t work for me.)
So yeah, right now I’m listening to Artists in Crime (Ngaio Marsh) and Dead Harvest (Chris F. Holm). I’m struggling a little bit with Dead Harvest, even though I love the novel itself: it’s not abridged, and I wasn’t sure how I felt about the narrator at first, though by now I’ve decided he sounds perfect. Just a pity he doesn’t change his voice a little when Sam changes bodies…
The downsides to audiobooks for me, really, are when I disagree with the adaptation, the choice of narrator, the abridgement, etc. Also the pace: I’m a fast reader, and in the time it took the narrator to get to chapter three in Dead Harvest, I could’ve been on chapter ten by myself. Still, it’s a different medium and I try to enjoy it for what it is.
In terms of genres, no, I don’t think there’s a particular genre that lends itself to the form. I do think there’re styles that do, though: something with a lot of dialogue, and less by way of visual description, or with a good first person narrator, for example. So much depends on how the adaptation is done.
This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is “how many books do you own the most from”. I’m gonna be totally unscientific here and just take some wild guesses.
Jo Walton. I own all her books, often in several formats. I think this one’s a safe bet.
Ngaio Marsh. I have all those omnibuses. Omnibii?
Robin Hobb. I’ve been reading everything she writes since I was, uh, thirteen ish?
Guy Gavriel Kay. Again with the multiple formats.
Ursula Le Guin. I don’t own everything she’s done, and I don’t usually have multiple copies, but I think she might still outnumber eveeeryone else. She’s just so good, I’m willing to try anything she’s done.
Steven Brust. This is Jo Walton’s fault. I haven’t even read most of them yet.
Tanya Huff. This is a guess, but I’m pretty sure I’m right. I’ve bought most of her books, though I haven’t read them all yet.
J.R.R. Tolkien. Everything bar the twelve volume history of Middle-earth, I think. Multiple editions.
The Gawain-poet. Whoever he (or she?) was. I own so many translations — probably at least nine?
The Beowulf-poet. I’m not quite as big a fan as I am of the Gawain-poet, but still. I’ve got a facing translation one, Heaney’s, Tolkien’s… the list goes on.
So, what about everyone else? Strangely, Dorothy L. Sayers does not make the cut, because I borrowed my copies to read.
Wait, how is it time for Stacking the Shelves again already?! Oh well, happy Saturday, all, and don’t forget to check out Tynga’s Reviews to find everyone else’s posts and interact with loads of wonderful other people.
I was actually going to say it’s been a quiet week, but then I remembered a bunch of books I’d ordered arrived, and I got quite a few ARCs too. Plus, me and my sis had a day trip to York with one of my closest friends, and that more or less inevitably meant a bookshop. (Less inevitably, it meant even my friend picked up something — my hunger for books is one of those things we really don’t share, but now she’s prepping for a teaching course, so she has to do more reading. I am trying to get her to try Attachments by Rainbow Rowell for fun…)
Anyway, I’ll just… split these up however comes to mind.
Ordered before this week!
So yeah, more Ngaio Marsh, no one’s surprised. Cherie Priest, ditto. Jim Butcher might be a bit of a surprise because I didn’t get on that well with the series the first time I tried to read it, and found some aspects of it problematic. Still, I did enjoy them for light reading, and The Works (yes, again) was selling them for around ~£2 each. So. Might as well see if I can get back into the series.
Re: Anna Elliott, Lynn O’Connacht bought me the first two books yeaaars ago. I spotted this one in, oddly enough, The Works’ online shop and went oh yeah, I never read that.
Bought in York
And… more Ngaio Marsh. I’m not even that huge a fan, in that sense, I just find reading her work really relaxing. Susanna Gregory, I’ve been meaning to try. And automatic recommendation sites keep suggesting The Boy with the Porcelain Blade, and the first few pages intrigued me well enough, so with that comparison to Scott Lynch… yeah, worth a try.
One lonely ebook
Yep, that’s a pretty odd mix. Nancy Kress, I’ve liked some of her other work; Gail Simone is just awesome and Kelly Sue DeConnick’s in there too; Ken Dickson’s story about his experience with mental illness sounded interesting enough; electrons are cool; Rocket Girl was on read now; Tomorrow and Tomorrow was the first book I spotted on BookBridgr that intrigued me.
And finally, new Captain Marvel. <3
So what’s everyone else been stacking their shelves with? Say hi, link your posts, let’s talk books!
I think this is the first Alleyn mystery where I genuinely felt for the victim, which helped greatly in my enjoyment of the story. It’s the first one where you spend part of the book following the victim closely, too, and where Alleyn has personal feelings on the matter, both of which I think are relevant. I know that the trope of the personally involved detective can be exasperating — and Alleyn even refers to it, in one of those unsubtle bits of meta — but at least it’s another way for the reader to engage with the case.
The actual puzzle aspect of the story is more or less as usual: a character you wouldn’t normally suspect ends up in it up to the neck, where the guy who looks like a sure thing is actually innocent. Still, the reasoning does make sense, all the timings match up, etc, so it makes perfect sense, which Ngaio Marsh is admittedly good at (apart from the weird mix of opportunism and premeditation in the crime in the first Alleyn book).
As for Alleyn’s personal life, well. I still can’t help but feel he’s a cut rate Wimsey. His relationship with Troy has some similar ups and downs to Wimsey’s with Harriet, but we don’t get to see as much interaction, as much of the push-and-pull they feel, and so it feels less compelling. I know I’m biased as a major fan of Sayers already, but I can’t help the feeling.
What have you recently finished reading?
Yesterday I finished Fortune’s Pawn (Rachel Bach) while I was at the clinic — man, I’m glad they let me read when it’s quiet now. It was a fun book, anyway: I loved the fighting scenes and the fact that the main character is a woman in an awesome mech. I was less fond of the heavy romance skew, partially because there were some tropes I’m less than fond of.
Today, I finished reading Death in a White Tie (Ngaio Marsh), which was the first of these mysteries that really got to me in terms of the feeling. In many ways it was typical, but I cared about the victim, genuinely felt he was a nice guy. I actually felt more about that than about Alleyn’s love affair. He hasn’t got a patch on Lord Peter, still, and ugh, that whole bit about women liking men who can bully them.
What are you reading now?
Lots and lots. But to highlight two, I’ve just started on Wen Spencer’s A Brother’s Price. It’s very interesting to read something that flips the gender roles like this, and I think I’m going to get along with the main character. I did read a review quite critical of it because it makes it seem like women are just as bad/worse than men, but I don’t see it that way. I mean, the situation as set up so far seems logical: men are scarce, and therefore precious and protected. Women are very defensive of them, and possessive too.
All of this makes sense for either gender, and here the women actually have a reason for it, unlike men IRL, because in our world, natural selection will always keep the number of babies of each gender born roughly equal. (It might dip to 49%-51% in a generation, or something like that, but it’s always going to self-correct.) I am wondering if it’s explained why men are rare and why natural selection isn’t fixing it. (I.e. if it’s something that can be adapted to, nature would quickly re-select for men who are fertile and have male children, because those male children will do well and go on to have more fertile male children. Eventually the balance would get to male 60-40 female or something, and then natural selection would select for women who bear more fertile female children, etc. I don’t know if I’m overthinking this for a speculative book that’s just reversing the genders, but this is the kind of thing I wonder.)
And of course, I’ve started on the next Alleyn book, Overture to Death, but I’m really not far into it.
What will you read next? Death at the Bar (Ngaio Marsh) is a reasonable bet. Other than that, I don’t know. I’ll probably read some of my ARCs, particularly the comics — Pretty Deadly (Kelly Sue DeConnick & Emma Rios) and Noir (Victor Gischler). Also, I have a handful of pages left of Seven Forges (James A. Moore), which I enjoyed greatly and yet somehow have not yet managed to finish. That might well be next, so I can read the sequel.
As with the other books, this is a nice little mystery with a carefully set up puzzle. It relies on all sorts of coincidence and such, but at least we’re seeing more of Alleyn as a person, and the omnipresent Nigel Bathgate has not contrived to get himself into Alleyn’s pocket for his holiday.
From what I gather, the setting here is close to Marsh’s heart in two ways: it’s set in New Zealand, and in the context of a theatrical company. That gives it some good moments of description: there’s one interrogation with a lovely setting, and there are some characters who are very lovingly described. There’s a bit about Maori culture, too, but mostly that felt like a set piece tacked on for some exotic interest.
I think I can see a development here toward something I’m more interested in reading — Alleyn, Fox and Agatha Troy, introduced in the next book, might draw me in properly for good. We’ll see.
Artists in Crime, Ngaio Marsh
I was quite hopeful about Artists in Crime bringing Alleyn to life for me a bit more, since this is where he meets his love interest. In a way, the whole set-up of this relationship is reminding me a lot of Lord Peter, especially since Alleyn’s mother has a title and so on. It’s not exactly parallel, but close enough to annoy me a little.
Still, it does introduce a bit more of a human side to Alleyn. Bathgate’s role is thankfully reduced, though the annoying creature does contrive to be present. Inspector Fox and all the other steady, reliable characters who attend Alleyn’s crime scenes are present, and I am getting fond of them, especially since Fox is just different to Alleyn, not lesser in the way that, say, Watson is. Alleyn doesn’t condescend to him like Wimsey to Parker, too.
I’ll need a bit more time with Troy to decide what to think about her and the relationship with Alleyn, but at least she brings in more of a personal life for him.
The mystery in itself, in this book, is typically convoluted and puzzle-like. I did catch on to most of the clues now, because I’ve sort of got used to the shape of these mysteries.