Ngaio Marsh. Generally counted on one hand among the great dames of the English mystery’s golden age, Marsh is a New Zealand writer of the late 20th century. She wrote thirty-two crime novels over about fifty years, and most are considered classics of the genre. I’ve found her to be, at her best, the only mystery novelist I’ve read who is comparable to Christie within the style both wrote in – the sharpness of her characterizations of people both high and low in society, her good-humored approach to occasionally very dark and macabre stories, and most of all the atmosphere of her stories, such a warmly compelling blend of uncensored portrayal of evil and compassion and love for her characters. I should note, however, that I’ve also found her to be wildly uneven – I’ll pick up a Marsh novel and be wildly engrossed from the second page and come away hugely pleased – and the next week I’ll try another and be bored out of my mind. Generally nothing in between, either – her novels are either fantastic or total duds as far as reading pleasure and quality. Unlike Christie, she chose only one hero for her novels, the deadpan, cultured Roderick Alleyn, whose mind it is a pleasure to be in, and whose famous artist wife is a significant character in several novels.
To read: Death in a White Tie
To avoid: Black As He’s Painted, which is both melodramatic and unfortunately tainted with quite a lot of the racism that was a fact of life in Marsh’s day