A Man Lay Dead

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A Man Lay Dead
First edition
Author Ngaio Marsh
Language English
Series Roderick Alleyn
Genre Detective fiction
Publisher Geoffrey Bles
Publication date
Media type Print ()
Followed by Enter a Murderer

A Man Lay Dead is a detective novel by Ngaio Marsh; it is the first novel to feature Roderick Alleyn, and was first published in 1934. The plot concerns a murder committed during a detective game of murder at a weekend party in a country house. Although there is a side-plot focused on Russians, ancient weapons, and secret societies, the murder itself concerns a small group of guests at Sir Hubert Handesley's estate. The guests include Sir Hubert's niece (Angela North), Charles Rankin (a 46- or 47-year-old man about town), Nigel Bathgate (Charles's cousin and a gossip reporter), Rosamund Grant, and Mr and Mrs Arthur Wilde. Also in attendance are an art expert and a Russian butler. Unlike later novels, this novel is more focused on Nigel Bathgate and less so on Alleyn.

During the detective game of murder, one of the guests is secretly selected to be the murderer, with a victim of his own choosing. At the time of the murderer's choice, he taps the victim on the shoulder, indicating that "You're the corpse". At that point, the lights go out, a gong rings, and then everyone assesmbles to determine who did it. It is all intended to be light-hearted fun, except that the corpse is for real.

A Man Lay Dead was the first novel Marsh had written, although she had written some plays and short stories. In years to come she would "cringe at the thought of her first novel with its barely plausible story line, shallow characterization and confined setting, but it was her entrée to crime fiction writing" and exemplifies the cozy detective novel form .... set in a single main setting (the "country house" crime).[1] Marsh says that she started writing about Alleyn in 1931 when the Murder Game was popular at English weekend parties. After reading a detective story by Christie or Sayers on a wet Saturday afternoon in London she wondered if she could write something in the genre and bought six exercise books and a pencil at a local stationers.[2]

Television Adaptation[edit]

This novel was adapted for the television series The Inspector Alleyn Mysteries, with the most notable change being that the Angela North character was replaced by Agatha Troy, who appears in later novels as Alleyn's romantic interest.

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Drayton, Joanne (2008). Ngaio Marsh: Her life in crime. Auckland: HarperCollins. p. 24. ISBN 978-1-86950-635-3. 
  2. ^ The Ngaio Marsh Collection, volume 1 (A Man Lay Dead/ Enter a Murderer/ The Nursing Home Murder & Introduction: Roderick Alleyn), Ngaio Marsh, Harper, 2009