Taking over from Dame Ngaio Marsh, one of the original Queens of Crime, would be a daunting prospect for any writer, but Stella Duffy (winner of the CWA Dagger Award, and Stonewall Writer of the Year) has beautifully risen to this task in the new inspector Alleyn novel, 'Money in the Morgue'.
Set in New Zealand during World War Two, Marsh's beloved detective finds himself called into a murder investigation, right in the middle of an espionage case. The novel opens when courier Mr Glossip finds himself marooned at a military hospital, thanks to a terrific storm. When the wages which Glossip has just delivered go missing, then an unexpected body turns up in the morgue, it is left to inspector Alleyn to unravel the nights mysteries. He does so with his usual charm, and perfect manners (let's just say you wouldn't be surprised to read that upon being asked by Alleyn to pass along the salt, a woman fainted by his feet).
His sidekick is a kind of inspector Fox substitute and cunningly, there are so many mentions of inspector Fox as Duffy talks about this man who is clearly not inspector Fox, that by the end of it you have somehow wound up concluding that this clearly not inspector Fox man, is actually inspector Fox. There is also mention of Troy, as Alleyn tries and fails to pen a letter to her (but manages an epic three page masterwork to inspector Fox, just saying).
In many respects, Duffy is the ideal candidate to finish a novel started by Ngaio Marsh. As well as being an esteemed writer of sixteen novels (five of these being crime), like Ngaio Marsh, Duffy spent her childhood in New Zealand, moved to London, and as a producer, and scriptwriter, has had a long standing relationship with the theatre. There are some lovely references to the world of theatre, in particular Shakespeare, as Alleyn absently quotes the Bard to himself on several occasions, much to the bewilderment of the local constabulary.
As Eric Morecambe would have said to Ernie Wise you just 'can't see the join', when you read 'Money in the Morgue'. The two writers just dovetail so perfectly. Later I learnt that Marsh wrote the first three chapters of this work, Duffy the rest, but had it not been for a sneaky look at a interview with Stella Duffy, and one telltale passage toward the end of the novel (where Alleyn muses on New Zealand as being like a 'living entity", not the most 30s European attitude toward the land) I would not have picked this for myself.
There is a strong cast of characters too including shell-shocked Dr Hughes, the stern yet endearing Sister Comfort, and the sparky Rosamund Farquharson. Marsh and Duffy conjure to life an intriguing array of suspects, against the dramatic backdrop of WWII New Zealand. Readers are treated to some evocative descriptions of the land, as well as some lovely insights into New Zealand culture, as seen through the eyes of a young Māori soldier, corporal Brayling. The ending is a satisfying one (all important for any mystery) and the novel is consistently packed with all the fun and endearing Alleyn moments a fan could wish for. This is a truly fantastic partnership between two queens of crime that will leave you wanting more. With any luck, another of Marsh's unfinished works will be unearthed soon and we will be treated to another Marsh/Duffy installment in this classic series.
Money in the morgue
by Stella Duffy and Ngaio Marsh
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
Ngaio Marsh House event - Sunday 27 May 2pm
The Ngaio Marsh House and Heritage Trust is putting on an event to celebrate the Ngaio Marsh and Stella Duffy's new novel "The Money in the Morgue":
Celebrate with style and panache the publication of Ngaio Marsh and Stella Duffy's new novel "The Money in the Morgue". Be theatrical and wear your vintage clothing, fedoras or berets.
You will get to view the improvements to the Ngaio Marsh House, and then got to Cashmere Presbyterian Church for drinks, hors d'oeuvres and entertainment. Scorpio Books will have a selection of Ngaio's book's for purchase.