Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Colour Scheme by Ngaio Marsh

Ngaio is a Maori word and means” Reflections on the water".

The author's name always appears on a list of grand dames of mystery. Even though Marsh was born and lived most of her life in New Zealand all of her books were written about England save for four. I looked up her books at our library and found one of the four.

What convinced me find the one copy in our library consortium was an article I read by a New Zealand writer who maintains a blog devoted to "Kiwi" crime writers. He had recently written a piece about Marsh. He wrote about the dated aspects of her detective novels, but also wrote about the gift she had for language and novel twists.

My copy of Colour Scheme was a 1943 copy.

On the back cover: “This book like all books, is a symbol of the liberty and the freedom for which we fight. You, as a reader of books, can do your share in the desperate battle to protect those liberties— Buy Wars Bonds
( Bonds or stamps may be procured at most book stores, all banks, many other places of business. To buy them is to become a true soldier of democracy.).

It was a perfect reminder of the time the story was written and added an authenticity to the book.

A cast of quirky characters—some British, some New Zealanders, and a few Maori appear in the story. Marsh's description of attitudes toward the indigenous people clearly shows the prejudice held by many.

All, save the Maori who live in a village nearby, are ensconced in a second-class establishment touting its thermal and mud bath cures. There’s a death on the property, which is a homicide, love infatuations, a self-absorbed actor and his two attendants, and an enemy agent.

A detective from England who is parading as a client in need of the mud baths to cure his lumbago skillfully unravels the ending.

I thoroughly enjoyed the leisurely pace, the humor and the character's foibles. I could easily see them portrayed on Masterpiece Theatre.

The other day I found one of her reissued books and purchased it for a rainy day when I want a cup of tea and a cozy mystery.

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