Book of the Week: ‘When in Rome’

When in Rome

Ngaio Marsh

1971, 260 pages

Classic mystery


Sometimes I want the comfort of reading one of my favorite authors, and to read a classic mystery. Ngaio Marsh was a New Zealand author who wrote wonderful mysteries and plays. She also directed plays, many of them by Shakespeare, and some of her mysteries reflect this.

When in Rome is a departure for her, and is set, not surprisingly, in Rome. Her detective, Roderick Alleyn, goes undercover as a tourist, hoping to catch a drug kingpin. He joins a very expensive tour group and they visit the “Basilica di San Tommaso,” a shrine run by monks. The shrine has several levels – each holy site was built on top of another – so that as people descend they feel they are going back in time.

A murder takes place in the Basilica and the group and their leader fall under suspicion. Alleyn must work with the monks to search the Basilica, which is dark, full of statutes, alcoves and hidden places, and has a stream running through it at the bottom. He also must cooperate with the Italian authorities to run the investigation without stepping on any toes. It is tricky work, and quite a challenge. The unusual characters and exotic location make this a favorite of her mysteries.

The Encyclopedia Britannica states that Ngaio Marsh’s books “are classic examples of the traditional detective story, giving readers a cleverly contrived puzzle involving sharply drawn characters against an authentic background.”

If you like Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayer, Margery Allingham, Ellis Peters or even a current author like Louise Penny, you should really try Ngaio Marsh. Every once in a while I have to go back and re-read one of Ngaio Marsh’s mysteries. She never disappoints.

Robbin BaileyConcord Public Library

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Author: Insider Staff

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