Ngaio Marsh: Grave Mistake – 1978

Verity Preston, a playwright, lives in the village of Upper Quintern, a
fairly typical specimen of the GA village (although this book was written in
1978). Among her neighbours are Sybil Foster a self-dramatising and rich
divorcee and her daughter Prunella, the millionaire newcomer Nikolas Markos and his son Gideon, and the new gardener – called (a very Marsh sort of joke) Gardener who’s services are much in demand. Not far away is the luxury health farm, Greengages, where the new Doctor, Dr Schramm (born Smythe but we are to think of Scam) turns out to be a very old, and very unsatisfactory flame of Verity’s. When Sybil’s highly suspicious step-son Claude turns up, Sybil retreats to Greengages, but has not been there very long before she is murdered. Enter Alleyn.

This is very far from being the disaster of Last Ditch or Grave Mistake
(being other very late Marsh’s) but one could not claim that it is
especially good either. In some ways it conforms to the classic Marsh
pattern – the opening chapters, pre-murder, pre-Alleyn, are good, but things deteriorate thereafter; unfortunately he enters pretty early in this book.
Verity Preston is an agreeable, reflective protagonist, who makes one rather
wish that Marsh had used more women of her age (50) as central characters – she certainly provides a needed foil to Marsh’s psychotic spinsters
(excellent though those portrayals are). The book is a pleasant enough
ramble but lacks either the brilliant plot or compelling interest to make it
more than that.

(September 2007)