Friday, October 2, 2015


COLOUR SCHEME by Ngaio Marsh (Collins, 1943)

Reviewed by Karen Chisholm

Often regarded as her most interesting book and set on New Zealand's North Island, Ngaio Marsh herself considered this to be her best-written novel. It was a horrible death -- Maurice Questing was lured into a pool of boiling mud and left there to die. Chief Inspector Roderick Alleyn, far from home on a wartime quest for German agents, knew that any number of people could have killed him: the English exiles he'd hated, the New Zealanders he'd despised or the Maoris he'd insulted. Even the spies he'd thwarted -- if he wasn't a spy himself...

I was prompted to re-read this after an absence of 3(cough) something years (good grief when did those years happen), by a discussion on 4 Mystery Addicts.

Colour Scheme is one of Ngaio Marsh's books actually set in her homeland of New Zealand and was, I think, originally released in 1953 or 1943. Despite the age of the book it still holds up pretty well. There's a lovely underlying sense of humour about it, a bit too much stuffed shirt middle class English twit in some of the characters maybe, but there are two elements that stay with me.

Firstly landscape - the setting for the book is a hot springs / thermal area with a small residential hotel building. The smell of the sulphur and the bubbling of the mud along with the moonlike look were very evocative.

Secondly the inclusion of a number of characters from a local indigenious Maori group and their customs and beliefs was refreshing simply because they were just there. There was no particular over-statement of their existence, of their involvement or of their interactions. In other words, what I'm trying to say, is that no big deal was made of their presence.

The storyline itself interwove the involvement of all the characters well and the whole thing, whilst obviously written quite a while ago, was actually just an interesting book with a bit of a spy thriller sideline. Couple of minor silly things in the plot that were a little contrived but when you consider Marsh up against the more well-known Golden Age writers - she can hold her own pretty well.

Karen Chisholm is one of Australia's leading crime reviewers. She created Aust Crime Fiction in 2006, a terrific resource - please check it out. Karen also reviews for Newtown Review of Books, and is a Judge of the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel

Her reviews of crime and thriller novels written by New Zealanders will now be shared here on Crime Watch as well as on Aust Crime Fiction. We thank her for letting us republish this review. 

No comments:

Post a Comment