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Ngaio Marsh: Her Life in Crime Paperback – 3 Sep 2009
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About the Author
Joanne Drayton is Associate Professor in the Department of Design at UNITEC, Auckland, where she lectures in art history and theory. Her critically acclaimed Ngaio Marsh: Her Life in Crime was a Christmas pick of the Independent when it was released in the United Kingdom in 2009. She was awarded a National Library Fellowship in 2007 to write her biography of Marsh, and lives in Auckland with her partner and two cats.
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The book begins well, with the author in London , buying some notebooks, a pencil and sharpener and sitting down to write her first mystery. She wanted to create a believable, professional policeman and did so in Roderick Alleyn and the start of this biography sets the scene well. However, there are issues with this biography and these also involves the way that Ngaio Marsh, and many in her native New Zealand, saw the writing of detective fiction. For, although Marsh spend much of her life shuttling between New Zealand and England, and obviously felt at home in both countries; while her writing career took off, something that was so valued in England was obviously viewed as something as an embarrassment in her native country.
When she was young, Marsh wanted to be an artist and, throughout her life, she was very interested in working in the theatre. Certainly, in New Zealand, she was much better known for her theatre work and not her writing. Meanwhile, this biography constantly outlines both the plots of many of her mysteries (I have only read a couple, so if you haven’t read her work before, be warned that this book contains constant spoilers), and also continually tells you what the other ‘Queens of Crime,’ were doing at the same time that Marsh was working on something. While it was good to have their work put in context, I did fell that this was too fact based. However, we could really have done with some facts in the rest of the book…
The other really big issue with this book was that Ngaio Marsh was a very, very private person. This is, of course, fair enough and I understand that this was her obviously her right. It is, though, a problem when you are reading the story of someone’s life and the author doesn’t even really speculate based on the evidence. So, we hear she was fond of a young man who died in WWI, but would she have married him? Were her female friends companions, or lovers? Having finished this book, I don’t really feel I know anything more about Marsh, than I did at the beginning, really. There are some facts – but no real depth. I cannot really recommend this and did not really find it particularly interesting, or enjoyable. Saying that, I do look forward to discovering more of Ngaio Marsh’s mysteries next year.
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