Another boxed set of DVDs which I purchased were The Inspector Alleyn Mysteries ; adaptations of 8 of Marsh’s books which were broadcast in 1993-94.

In fact there were 9 adaptations in total but the first, Artists in Crime, which was broadcast in 1990, featured a different Alleyn (Simon Williams) and is not included in the box set which includes only those where Patrick Malahide plays Alleyn (I have been informed that there is a much earlier series where George Baker – Wexford – plays Alleyn which I admit to finding unimaginable).

The 8 adaptations here are, in order of broadcast (and with publication date in brackets)….

  1. A Man Lay Dead (1934)
  2. The Nursing Home Murder (1935)
  3. Final Curtain (1947)
  4. Death at The Bar (1940)
  5. Death in a White Tie (1938)
  6. Hand in Glove (1962)
  7. Dead Water (1964)
  8. Scales of Justice (1955)

The first big mystery is as to why these particular books were selected. It will be seen that there is little relation between publication date and broadcast date. The range is from the very beginning (A Man Lay Dead is Marsh’s first book) to fairly late (although there would be several more books after Dead Water few of them reveal Marsh at the height of her powers). In terms of quality both The Nursing Home Murder, and even more a Man Lay Dead are poor; Marsh did not really hit her stride until Artists in Crime. It is true that quite a lot of people consider Death in a White Tie to be her best work; fairly unarguably it is among them. The others all have something going for them – often quite a lot – but there are (with the exception of Scales) better books – Surfeit of Lampreys, Overture to Death, Death and the Dancing Footman, Opening Night spring instantly¬† to mind).

Laying quality on one side however (and my views are of course subjective) the selection is misleading in terms of Marsh themes. First, there are no colonial ingenues and in Lampreys and Opening Night she took this (semi-autobiographical) figure and made brilliant use of it ( a use which has never been matched – I have read at least one truly embarrassing modern attempt to replicate the trick). It may be that the omission of these characters is understandable as it would have meant that the episodes’ central focus would have been diverted from Alleyn (one reason why those books are to be cherished in my view!). Less comprehensible is the fact that none of the theatre mysteries were included. After all these are probably reasonably cheap to shoot! And this was another province which Marsh made her own. It is true that here there have been other successful mysteries (in a comic vein Brett’s Paris books spring to mind) but the setting is one which Marsh knew how to exploit to the full, and her love and knowledge of the theatre is deployed to great effect (or overdeployed in the late and very tedious Death at The Dolphin). The point is that to present a series of Marsh adaptations without one set in a theatre is both misleading and, given how much she loved the theatre,¬†a bad omission.

A detailed analysis of each episode will have to wait until I re-watch them (and in some cases reread the books). In general terms it can be said that they are very handsomely mounted and produced. In my view Malahide is an excellent Alleyn. A friend argues that Williams was much more suitable on the grounds that he is more like ‘handsome Alleyn’ but I think Malahide brings out the monkish, remote side of the character which is very much there in Marsh. I do not see how anyone could not think that William Simons is brilliant and definitive as Fox. Belinda Lang is a good Troy too although the series attempts to shoe-horn the romance between her and Alleyn into books in which they were in fact an old married couple. As far as plot alterations go there are some good and some bad. Death in a White Tie, which is arguably the best adaptation as well as book, they very sensibly left pretty much alone. Final Curtain is completely changed and in my view very much for the better as I had problems with the original ending (see http://gadetection.pbworks.com/Final+Curtain). However I shall defer any further comments until re-viewing/reading.

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