Tuesday, September 1, 2015


OVERTURE TO DEATH by Ngaio Marsh (1939)

Reviewed by Andrea Thompson

If you’ve ever known any mean, unattractive older ladies, who seem angry and upset whenever other people are happy and fulfilled, and yet who prefer to express their anger by using indirect insults often disguised as compliments or helpful hints, you will have a riot reading “Overture to Murder”.

Eleanor Prentice and Idris Campanula are both this type of woman, and their so-called friendship disguises a fierce, underground rivalry. Marsh’s careful writing style, with a strong focus on the inner thoughts, emotions, and motivations of the characters, is perfect here, in describing these two difficult characters, as well as everyone else in the story. In addition to being very revealing and evocative, Marsh’s writing is humorous, and so even though many of the people in the book are quite unpleasant, I didn’t find any of the scenes boring.

This entry in the Roderick Alleyn series is set in a small village, which of course, because this is a Golden Age mystery, seems conventional on the surface but secretly contains all sorts of undercurrents and scandalous goings-on. The plot revolves around an amateur play, which is being put on in order to raise funds to buy a new piano for the Young People’s Society.

The focus in the first part of the book is on the village itself, and the various people who are taking part in the play: the rector and his daughter, the squire and his son, the village doctor, a vaguely outrageous woman named Mrs. Ross, and of course, the two vicious spinsters. It is quite a while before Chief Inspector Alleyn shows up, from London – he’s called in when a serious crime occurs, and the local police force is too busy with another investigation to be able to handle both.

Alleyn is accompanied by his familiar friends Inspector Fox and journalist Nigel Bathgate, who always add a lot to any scene.

Although I guessed pieces of the solution to the mystery, and began to feel a bit impatient at the beginning, as the book went on and Alleyn hadn’t shown up yet, I found this to be a satisfying and entertaining read. Marsh didn’t hold back when she wrote, and I am grateful.


Andrea is an avid mystery reader from Ontario who loves crime fiction, both old and new, with a passion. She says she is drawn to mysteries because they focus on the search for truth. You can visit her Facebook book review page here


  1. I recall reading this book, and wondering why Alleyn wasn't in earlier. I was a juvenile reader then, not realizing it just would not have worked to do so. I've read this book oh, three times, maybe? I found her in my teens and have continued to read and reread her books with enjoyment. Thank you for the review, it brought back memories of reading, which are always pleasant!


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  2. I love the slower pace of some of the older mysteries. As a kid I got lost in many an Agatha Christie novel - especially those featuring Miss Marple. Definitely put this one on my reading list.