However, it can be argued that it is Ngaio Marsh who uses both symbolism and the supernatural, in its many manifestations, most prolifically, but subtly, as part of the very fabric of her books. Marsh was born and brought up in New Zealand and trained at art college before entering the theatre, and her life experience is ingrained in her novels, which often draw on her knowledge of Maori culture, and theatrical and artistic life. Marsh’s long series of books feature the elegant and cultured Scotland Yard detective Roderick Alleyn, who is a connoisseur of both art and drama. In Artists In Crime (1938), Alleyn meets and falls in love with artist Agatha Troy and subsequently marries her, and the authenticity of descriptions of Troy’s art and the artistic community are clearly due to Marsh’s mastery of her subject.
‘“Good Lord, what on earth are those two people doing down there? They must be demented! Look!”
As often happens in Marsh’s books, the innocent customs lie alongside darker supernatural activities, and, in this case, Black Magic leads to murder and the mutilation of a corpse.
inhabitants who, despite poverty, are clinging to old-fashioned customs of their native land.
jewellery left by the body, but when Marsh wrote Singing in the Shrouds (1958) over sixty years ago the effect on her readers must have been much stronger. The light from his flashlamp darted eccentrically up the side
alley, momentarily exhibiting a high-heeled shoe with a foot in it. The light fluttered, steadied and returned. It crept from the foot along a leg, showing a red graze through the gap in its nylon stocking. It moved on and came to rest at last on a litter of artificial pearls and fresh flowers scattered over the breast of a dead girl.’ In the same book, Marsh also used the mutilation of a doll as a symbol of the woman who had received it as a gift: ‘It was indeed broken. The head had been twisted so far and with such violence that Esmerelda now grinned over her left shoulder at a quite impossible angle. The black lace mantilla was wound tightly round the neck and lying on the rigid bosom was a litter of emerald beads and single crushed hyacinth.’
motivation in their books.