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A man lay dead and A surfeit of Lampreys: Ngiao Marsh, BBC full cast radio dramatisation - OK but nothing amazing
on 20 June 2013
A man lay dead (first published in 1934) was Ngiao Marsh's first novel to feature Inspector Roderick Alleyn. At a country house party the guests play a game of murderers, which seems a lot of fun until one of them really is murdered. Alleyn is called in to investigate, and he soon finds that everyone has shaky alibis and motive, and what physical evidence there is suggests a very remarkable method indeed. It's a decent enough mystery as Alleyn peels back the layers to get to the truth, though I felt that the ending was a little weak, with Alleyn seeming to base his accusation on very little evidence and the murderer just admitting it when s/he could have kept quiet and probably have got away with it. It is certainly not the best in the series.
A surfeit of Lampreys (first published in 1941) was the tenth book in the series. In this one a very rich peer is visiting some impoverished relatives when he is suddenly and rather brutally done to death. This seems to be much to the advantage of the people he was visiting, and they become the obvious suspects. The Lamprey family do what they can to throw dust in the detective's eyes, trying to dig themselves out of a hole but just digging in deeper. The tale winds through some very dark places and is reminiscent at times of a good old fashioned gothic horror, before the culprits and their motives are revealed in a great conclusion. This is one of the better entries in the series, only marred by the titular family, many of whom are downright annoying and hard to feel sympathy for.
These radio adaptations, from 2001, are OK. They star Jeremy Clyde as Alleyn, and he strikes just the right note with his well polished accent. Surfeit of Lampreys is by far the better of the two, mainly because it was a better book to start with. It manages all the right dark and gothic touches and is quite atmospheric. But, as with the books, characters are seldom more then 2D and have no depth whatsoever. Compared to, say, Ian Carmichael's Peter Wimsey radio adaptations it does rather pale somewhat. Each episode is an hour long, and on a separate casette. Liner notes are, as usual for the Beeb, almost non-existant.
All in all 3 stars. It's a decent enough way to spend two hours, but it didn't really grip me in the way that some radio dramas have.