A Man Lay Dead by Ngaio Marsh: B

From the back cover:
When Sir Hubert Handesley invited his well-to-do friends to his country estate for an amusing weekend, no one suspected it would turn into a deadly ordeal. But one of the participants in the supposedly playful Murder Game turns up dead… and Scotland Yard’s inimitable Roderick Alleyn must find out who spoiled the fun.

I’ve seen Ngaio Marsh compared to Agatha Christie a few times, but the writing is much more like Conan Doyle, complete with the occasional disdainful remark about or depiction of foreigners or poor people. Alleyn’s methods of detection are rather Holmesian, and the subplot would not be out of place in a tale of Sherlock’s exploits.

The mystery is decent, and the method of the crime quite unusual. In addition, Alleyn makes some choices that I’ve not seen a detective make before, as they’re very non-standard procedure for the Yard. While the in-character basis for these is suspect, they do at least succeed in keeping a) things lively and b) the closest thing to a protagonist involved in the story.

My major complaint is that I am still left with almost no impression of Alleyn as a person. Perhaps the author has rendered him deliberately enigmatic, as he is primarily seen through the (not too bright) eyes of one of the guests at the estate, but his behavior is so changeable that his real personality cannot be known.

There were enough good things here to warrant a look at the next one in the series, but if they’re all like this, I can see myself tiring of them quickly.

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