I’m a big fan of Ngaio Marsh’s detective novels featuring Inspector Alleyn, the first of which was published in 1934 and the last in 1982, the year she died. Death on the Air and Other Stories is the only collection of her shorter pieces that was published. It contains three Alleyn short stories and five stories set outside of her Alleyn world. All of the stories were previously published between 1936 and 1979 in various outlests. It also includes a television script that was recorded in England in 1975 and two biographical sketches, one of Alleyn and one of the woman he marries during the series, artist Agatha Troy.
I listened to the audio version of this collection, which may have not been the best choice. I found it hard to jump from one story to the next. I guess the audio format didn’t give me time to readjust or clear my mind between stories, but that’s just me. It has nothing to do with the book itself or the narration for that matter. Nadiea May has narrated all of the Marsh books I’ve listened to and I think she does a wonderful job. She’s the voice I associate with the series.
The stories were all well-done and typical Marsh. For me, the most interesting bits were the two essays on her main characters and the introduction that told a little more about Marsh herself, her painting and her love of the theater. Her mystery-writing was a just a part of her life. The mysteries themselve, though short, showcased her talent for writing a good who dunnit well. With the limited word count, however, I think we miss out on how well Marsh can write characters. We don’t get to really know the folks involved, at least not as well as we do in a full-length book. That’s the downfall of short stories sometimes. I thought the script might be confusing to listen to, but it wasn’t. I found it interesting and easy to follow. One piece of advice, though, don’t listen to adiobooks in bed. I fell asleep and instead of just stopping there, like a paperback or Kindle, it of course kept going, meaning the next day I had to do a little searching to figure out where I had been.
I do think that people who already know and enjoy Marsh’s writing will definitely want to read this collection. It could also serve as a nice introduction, both to Alleyn and to her style.
The title story, “Death on the Air,” takes place on Christmas by the way, although there’s nothing festive about it.
4 out of 5 stars
Category: Mystery- Short Stories
First published 1989
6 hours 30 minutes
Narrated by Nadia May
Book source: Library