This week for the Tuesday Night Bloggers I have decided to look at the murder methods Ngaio Marsh employs in her novels. In this analysis I decided to exclude Spinsters in Jeopardy (1954), as I didn’t think there was a central death. Also, in some books there may be more than one killing, but to simplify things I have focused purely on the primary killings. I don’t think I am giving any spoilers away here, as these murder methods are usually revealed to the reader shortly after the body is discovered. So to begin here are the overall results of the different murder methods Marsh used:
Stabbing: A Man Lay Dead, using an artefact, Artists in Crime, where the victim is pushed down onto a knife in a couch; Surfeit of Lampreys involves a skewer and is thought to be a very grizzly murder; Swing Brother Swing involves a stiletto, as does Photo Finish and Black as he’s Painted includes a spear.
Shot: Enter a Murderer, where a theatre prop gun is switched and Overture to Death, where the pistol is concealed in a piano.
Poison: The Nursing Home Murder, which uses the poison hyoscine; Death in Ecstasy where prussic acid is put into a ritual wine cup; Death at the Bar, where potassium cyanide is employed; Final Curtain which uses thallium poisoning and False Scent where poison is added to the victim’s perfume bottle.
Asphyxiation: Death in a White Tie, where the victim is suffocated; Opening Night involves gassing; I included Colour Scheme here, as I imagine that suffocation would be the ultimate cause of death for someone left to die in a boiling mud pool, though burns would also be a significant problem, Singing in the Shrouds has a strangler in it, as does When in Rome; Dead Water, as its’ names implies involves a drowning and in Grave Mistake there is also another suffocation.
Blunt Instrument: Death and the Dancing Footman, which utilises a weapon from New Zealand; Scales of Justice also deploys a blunt instrument; Hand in Glove where two instruments of sorts are used in a thumping/hitting manner; Death at the Dolphin includes a statuette and in Tied up in Tinsel, the murderer also uses a blunt instrument. I am also including Vintage Murder in this category as a jeroboam of champagne falling on top of someone counts as being struck by a kind of blunt instrument in my book.
Miscellany: Died in the Wool where the victim is compressed into a bale of wool and Clutch of Constables where pressure is put upon the victims’ carotid arteries.
Fake Accident: Last Ditch, where a horse riding accident, seems a lot less accidental.
Beheading: Off With His Head and Light Thickens.
I found my results intriguing, as it seems murder by shooting happens very infrequently and is as common as beheading, whilst Marsh’ preferred method seems to be blunt instruments (which may allow for more variety perhaps), followed by stabbings and methods of asphyxiation. Poisonings also happen more often than shootings. Murder method variety is not something I have readily connected with Marsh’s novels but if these results show anything, they do suggest that Marsh wasn’t afraid to go beyond a mere knife or gun and here are in my opinion, Marsh’s Top 5 Murder Methods:
- The deadly scent bottle in False Scent
Although poison as a murder method is not usually that novel, I thought the putting of the poison in the scent bottle as opposed to the more conventional food or drink made it stand out that little bit more.
- Crashing champagne bottle in Vintage Murder
Blunt instruments and the general thumping of victims is the method used in this crime, but I thought the use of giant champagne bottle made the method a bit more elaborate and required a bit more effort on the part of the murderer. Moreover, this method worked well within the theatre setting of the novel.
- Pistol in the piano in Overture to Death
This is one of the two occurrences where a gun is involved in the murder method and in what a way! A problem I often have with Marsh novels is that they are not very memorable but this is one of those rare moments where a bit of plot actually sticks in my mind and I thought the pistol rigged into the piano had great shock factor.
- Boiling mud pools in Colour Scheme
A method of murder which fits well into the New Zealand background of the novel, although it isn’t as majored on as you would expect. I think it scores highly on the originality scale and if the responses of the characters are anything to go by then it also does well in generating horror and shock.
1. Bale of sheep’s wool in Died in the Wool
Ironically the murder method I consider the most original is from a book I have yet to read and part of me now wants to read Died in the Wool to figure out how such a murder method works. You may wonder why I placed this method above the boiling mud pools and to be honest I think it is because I have never heard of such a way of killing someone before fictionally or otherwise. Although the boiling mud pools can be considered outré, ultimately they can be seen as similar to ponds, lakes and rivers generally where the cause of death becomes asphyxiation. I think it is interesting that the top two methods both come from books set in New Zealand. Perhaps setting them in a place she was so familiar with, enabled Marsh to write and think more creatively, using parts of the setting to influence the murder method.
So there you have it, a whistle stop tour of murder the Marsh way or ways rather. Let me know which murder method you think is the best in Marsh’s work (as opposed to based on your own personal experience) in the comments section below.