The New Zealand Novel 1860-1965
Ngaio Marsh. Ngaio Marsh's overseas popularity makes her possibly the best known of our writers after Katherine Mansfield. Her first story, A Man Lay Dead, appeared in 1934, at a time when the detective story dominated the highbrow entertainment market. (Top place today perhaps is taken by science fiction.) Since then, Ngaio Marsh has published twenty-three novels, almost one a year. Three have New Zealand settings: Vintage Murder, 1937; Colour Scheme, 1943; Died in the Wool, 1944.
In all her stories the backgrounds are brilliantly drawn, while the puzzles posed by her plots rise convincingly out of them. So it is with the New Zealand trio, in which the events of the story are probable enough to hold the interest, while the local possibilities are most skilfully manipulated. The English theatrical scene however seems to provide Ngaio Marsh with more of those eccentric or outrageous characters whose presence makes her yarns so sparkling. It cannot be said that the New Zealand stories are her best. Are we too lacking in wit, too puritan, too comfortably conformist, to make good subjects for "a nice murder"?