Marsh crime novel completed with skill

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
Money in the Morgue. Ngaio Marsh and Stella Duffy. Harper Collins. 

It seems not even death can stop New Zealand's "Queen of Crime".

Ngaio Marsh might have passed away in 1982 but three rough chapters of a novel and a loose synopsis have seen her make an unlikely return.

Getting the hospital pass of completing a novel by a Kiwi legend is UK-based novelist and theatremaker Stella Duffy.

With awards to her name for her crime fiction and a childhood spent in New Zealand, she had the credentials.

But what a task - filling in the considerable blanks left by a master.

Despite the magnitude of the job, Duffy acquits herself brilliantly and rather than creating a cheap imitation, she has completed the project with wit and skill.

Set in World War 2, Mount Seager Hospital houses a band of quarantined soldiers and the medical staff who spend as much time babysitting them as they do maintaining their health.

Watching over all of them is the matron: a fastidious, professional and personable sort, who is doing her best to keep the ramshackle facility running efficiently.

Added to the mix is Mr Glossop, a government employee delivering wages around the Canterbury plains.

When he gets a puncture and a storm rolls in, he has no choice but to hunker down at the hospital.

His considerable bag of cash is stowed in the safe along with the winnings of one of the nurses who got lucky betting on the horses.

But within hours, the money is gone.

Meanwhile a patient dies, followed by a staff member, and chaos threatens to reign.

Enter the inimitable Inspector Roderick Alleyn, a mainstay of Marsh's previous 32 novels.

Hiding at the isolated premises on top-secret war business, he is forced to reveal himself and bring some order to the tumult.

Ngaio Marsh
Ngaio Marsh
Despite having some significantly bigger fish to fry, Alleyn takes to the task of solving two deaths and a theft with characteristic poise and intelligence.

His hunches are sometimes irritatingly accurate but he plays a superb role.

As well as hunting down murderers and thieves, and attempting to thwart a devilish instance of espionage, he also manages to help characters rearrange their personal lives.

A complex love triangle is no match for Alleyn's wise counsel.

It seems there is nothing he cannot do.

Duffy portrays New Zealand's rural majesty through the eyes of a foreigner, as, one imagines, she may have seen it as a child new to the country.

When the mystery is solved, readers will no doubt be surprised by those unmasked.

A rollicking good read.

 - Rob Kidd is an ODT court reporter and books editor

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