M is for Mystery Writers (and Their Heroes)

Patrick Malahide as Alleyn* 
There are so many M's that I want to comment on, I decided to split them into several posts:

Marsh, Ngaoi: Ngaoi Marsh is a Golden Age mystery writer. She created Inspector Alleyn. I enjoy her mysteries and even feel somewhat nostalgic about them. My first encounter with Marsh was in college. Whenever I was about to fly home, I would go to the mystery fiction section of the BYU Bookstore and pick out a new Marsh to get me through the plane ride.

My favorite is Killer Dolphin, which introduces one of her best secondary characters, Peregrine Jay. I also quite like Grave Mistake and Singing in the Shrouds, although the murder in the latter is downright daft (and the kind of thing that would ordinarily lead to a detective being called on the carpet).

I have mixed feelings about Marsh herself. She was one of those people back in the day who made snide little remarks about poor Sayers falling in love with her hero. What makes this not only distasteful but bizarre is that Marsh is far more worshipful of Alleyn than Sayers is of Wimsey.

With Lord Peter Wimsey, Sayers may have created her ideal counterpart, but she tackles him with a degree of objectivity missing from Marsh's treatment of Alleyn. Marsh may not be in love with Alleyn, but she treats him like the ultimate cool, overly handsome guy in that really awesome clique that everyone supposedly just can't wait to join.

Alleyn is NEVER wrong (even when he IS wrong: see above); even people who initially sneer at him, end up admiring him. His subordinates adore him. He is constantly impressing people with his knowledge of Shakespeare. He would really be totally irritating if he didn't manage to be a character in his own right.


There has never been a satisfactory television or film Wimsey
although Ian Carmichael is a fabulous voice Wimsey!
A young David Hyde Pierce may have pulled it off!
Contrast this with Sayers' Wimsey, who isn't over-the-top handsome (though he has a nice body) and isn't universally beloved. Some people dislike him; others misunderstand him; the occasional murderer loathes him. He does win some people over, but even people who like him--like Charles Parker--remain objective about him. Sayers never forgets that people just don't react the same way to the same person all the time.

Marsh seems to think that as long as someone is "popular," no one will ever, ever take issue with him. It's a startlingly immature perspective that is reflected in some of her comments re: Sayers. Unintentionally or not, Marsh comes across as a cliquey high schooler laughing about that weird girl over there.

Me, I side with the weird girl.

Still, Marsh is a good writer, and the mysteries are fun. However, despite what the blurbs try to tell you, Christie is still better.

*I didn't care for Patrick Malahide as Alleyn at first, but now, I quite like him. He is actually much closer to Marsh's description of Alleyn than he appears at first--though he isn't as tall as Alleyn is supposed to be. He is also quite approachable, allowing me to like Alleyn better than I might based on just Marsh's description.

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