Grave Mistake by Ngaio Marsh

Suzie Eisfelder

I needed something I’d read before, something that felt friendly and light. Looking on my shelves I found Ngaio Marsh. She’s a New Zealand author with some of her detective novels set in England and some in New Zealand. I really love her style of writing. It’s laid back, with all the clues right there if only I can actually put them all together. And the answer is no, I’m pretty clueless with detective novels. I love reading them, but rarely manage to figure out whodunit, even if I’ve read the book before. If you like a straight crime novel then I will always recommend Marsh.

This book was set in England, complete with the class system on show. It’s really interesting to be able to see the class system operate. To see how the people with money work their lives and assume everyone will listen.

It was also great seeing their gardens. I love a good garden, and if there’s veggies and fruit planted then I’m in heaven. This time the character picked some japonicas. These fruit are a relative of the quince and make quite a nice quince jelly. I happen to have one in my garden, we rarely get enough fruit from it to be worthwhile.

I loved the paragraph where she talks about etiquette. I’ll type it out for you.

Nobody has invented a really satisfactory technique for the gradual approach of people who have already exchanged greetings from afar. Continue to grin while a grin dwindles into agrimace? Assume a sudden absorption in the surroundings? Make as if sunk in meditation? Break into a joyous canter? Shout? Whistle? Burst, even, into song?

I have often thought about this. Some people start the conversation from afar and that’s all very well for them, but I have a soft voice so I can almost guarantee that is not going to work. I love the idea of trying each of these methods in turn to see which works best. This is what Marsh does best, takes small pieces of our world and turns them on their heads as an illustration.

I rarely give page numbers as I’m sure everyone has a different edition, but on page 73 of this edition it has mention of a ‘ha-ha’ and a description of it as a ‘shallow declivity’. The delight in my mind when I read this was quite complete. This edition was printed in 1978 so I’ve probably had it some time and would have read about the ‘ha-ha’ before. The first time I remember reading about was in a Discworld book by Terry Pratchett. No, I don’t remember which one. It was nice to see this coming back to me to give me a whole new outlook on it.

Two more things before I finish and recommend this book, or any book by Marsh. There is a reference to Dick Emery. Apparently the nurse was breathing a bit like Dick Emery and the detective, Roderick Alleyn, fully expected her to say ‘but I like you’. And that will go straight over the head of anyone young. Dick Emery was an English comedian and actor, dressing up in drag, one of his catch phrases was ‘Ooh, you are awful… but I like you’. He died some five years after this book was published and would have been at the height of his fame when this book was published in 1978.

And roses. Why roses? Not because it was 65 Roses day a few days ago, but because Verity cut some roses and stood them in scalding water for half an hour. I’m really not sure what that’s supposed to do, but it was interesting.

Anyway, Booktopia don’t seem to have Grave Mistake for sale so I’m giving you a general link for all of Ngaio Marsh’s books so you can see some of the many books she wrote. Thank you to all those who clicked, the number is giving me heart.

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