The Nursing Home Murder (Marsh)

The Nursing Home Murder - Ngaio Marsh

Since I was reading a biography of Ngaio Marsh, I decided to pick up a couple of her mysteries from the library to remind myself of their flavour. This one is only the third in the series, so Roderick Alleyn is still without a romantic partner, and still decidedly a smart-aleck.


The title of this work doesn't work particularly well in a contemporary North American context, because the meaning of the term "nursing home" is not the same. Here it means, essentially, a small private hospital. So one has to put aside the associations with vulnerable old people (especially vivid in the midst of this pandemic that is preying upon them) and realize instead that the murder victim is a man of power - the Home Secretary - with a multitude of enemies, personal and public, who might wish to see him dead. When he goes into that hospital with acute peritonitis, pretty much everyone around the operating table either has a fairly obvious motive (two members of a romantic triangle of which he is the third point, for instance; and a nurse who is a vocal member of the Communist ("Bolshie") political group he is actively attacking with legislation). In addition, he is dosed by his rather eccentric sister with a dubious cure, just before the operation. All of these suspects fairly successfully distract from the reasonable suspicion one might form, that a death due to an overdose of a secondary anaesthetic might just be attributed to the anaesthetist. The anaesthetist in the case seems at first to have no motive - unless you are paying close attention during Inspector Alleyn's interviews with all the characters.


One of the things I was delighted to rediscover is the wit in the narrative voice. Here, for instance, are Sir Derek's feelings towards his wife:


Always so perfectly groomed, so admirably gowned, so maddeningly remote. Their very embraces were masked in a chilly patina of good form. Occasionally he had the feeling that she rather disliked him, but as a rule he had no feeling about her at all. He supposed he had married her in a brief wave of enthusiasm for polar exploration. There were no children.


"Polar exploration"!


Finally, I'll note that even in this murder set in an operating theatre, the other kind of theatre (Ngaio Marsh's other great passion) is brought in to the story. It is presented as a possibly incriminating device - rather like the play in Hamlet, someone describes a play they've just seen where the circumstances are a close mirror to the real life murder, and we all watch the reactions of various people (particularly the surgeon himself) with interest.


After I finished this one, I could barely wait to get to the other Marsh I had on hold with the library; what a delight to revisit an author I enjoyed so much when I was younger.