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From the Golden Age of Detective Fiction…
What is the Roderick Alleyn series about?
Roderick Alleyn is a gentleman detective and the main protagonist of the famous mystery series written by New Zealand crime writer (and theatre director) Ngaio Marsh and published from 1932 to 1982,
After serving during World War I and a stint in the British Foreign Service, Roderick Alleyn joined the Metropolitan Police. This tall, dark, and good-looking detective in the CID at Scotland Yard solves crimes, as a gentleman like him does.
Several of the Roderick Alleyn novels have been adapted for television. Alleyn has been played by Geoffrey Keen, Michael Allinson, George Baker, Simon Williams, and then by Patrick Malahide.
How to read the Roderick Alleyn Books in Order?
Every book in the Roderick Alleyn series works as a standalone story, but the lives of the different characters evolve from one novel to the other.
- A Man Lay Dead – Sir Hubert Handesley’s extravagant weekend house-parties are deservedly famous for his exciting Murder Game. But when the lights go up this time, there is a real corpse with a real dagger in the back. All seven suspects have skilful alibis – so Chief Detective Inspector Roderick Alleyn has to figure out the whodunit…
- Enter a Murderer – The crime scene was the stage of the Unicorn Theatre, when prop gun fired a very real bullet; the victim was an actor clawing his way to stardom using bribery instead of talent; and the suspects included two unwilling girlfriends and several relieved blackmail victims. The stage is set for one of Roderick Alleyn’s most baffling cases…
- The Nursing Home Murder – For one unlucky Member of Parliament, a simple visit to the hospital (the “nursing home” of the title) proves fatal. But as Inspector Roderick Alleyn will discover, any number of people had reason to help the gentleman to his just reward, including the sour surgeon, his besotted nurse, a resentful wife, and a cabinet full of political rivals.
- Death in Ecstasy – Did lovely Cara Quoyne get a whiff of the bitter almonds as she raised the goblet to her lips? We’ll never know: With a single sip she transported herself to the Hereafter. At least, that’s the romantic view. But Inspector Roderick Alleyn has little interest in romance; he’s investigating a murder. Cara was a deeply spiritual young woman, a novice with the House of the Sacred Flame. It seems, however, that somebody was operating from very un-spiritual motivations.
- Vintage Murder – Inspector Roderick Alleyn is journeying to New Zealand. Traveling with Alleyn are the members of the Carolyn Dacres English Comedy Company. The actors’ operatic intrigues offer an amusing diversion until, unexpectedly, they turn deadly. And Alleyn learns – not for the last time – that while he may be able to leave his badge back in Blighty, he’s still a policeman, even on the other side of the world.
- Artists in Crime – In the movies, it’s known as a “meet cute.” But for Inspector Alleyn and Miss Agatha Troy, it’s more like irritation: On the ship back to England, she finds him tedious and dull; he thinks she’s a bohemian cliché. No sooner has Alleyn settled into his mother’s house, eager for a relaxing end to his vacation, then he gets a call that a model has been stabbed at the artists’ community down the road. And the artistic Miss Troy is one of the community’s most prominent and outspoken members.
- Death in a White Tie – The season had begun. Débutantes and chaperones were planning their luncheons, teas, dinners, balls. And the blackmailer was planning his strategies, stalking his next victim. But Chief Detective Inspector Roderick Alleyn knew that something was up. He had already planted his friend Lord Robert Gospell at the scene. But someone else got there first…
- Overture to Death – It’s murder in the little English village, but the two local spinsters, Miss Campanula, the victim, and Miss Prentice, her friend who may have been the intended victim, are not exactly the beloved little old ladies of song and story. They were (and are) waspish, gossiping snobs, passionate only about their own narrowly defined religion….and, perhaps, about the local vicar. But could they have been sufficiently unpleasant to provoke a murderer?
- Death at the Bar – It’s true, darts is nobody’s idea of a low-risk amusement, yet it is rarely lethal. Tell that to the famous barrister who was enjoying a pint at the Plume of Feathers pub, and is now residing at the morgue. Inspector Roderick Alleyn has a growing hunch that the peculiar “accident” can be traced to an old legal case.
- Surfeit of Lampreys – The killingly aristocratic Lamprey family exemplifies charm, wit, and a chronic lack of funds. Their only source of hope is the wealthy but unpleasant Lord Wutherwood, and the Lampreys may perhaps be forgiven for doing a little jig when his Lordship is killed and the resulting inheritance saves their bacon. Inspector Roderick Alleyn wouldn’t dream of judging the Lampreys’ joy. But he would like to figure out whether they murdered their benefactor.
- Death and the Dancing Footman – The unspeakably wealthy (and generally unspeakable) Jonathan Royal has decided to throw a party and, just for fun, has studded the guest-list with people who loathe one another. When a blizzard imprisons them all in Royal’s country house, murder ensues. In true Christie-esque tradition, there are nearly as many suspects as there are potential victims. Eventually, Inspector Roderick Alleyn makes his way through the snow to put things right.
- Colour Scheme – Colour Scheme is set during World War II at a mud-baths resort in New Zealand run by Colonel Claire. His business is on the brink of being taken over by a local blowhard who may be a Nazi spy. Inspector Roderick Alleyn has been sent to the resort to sort things out. But he’s in disguise, and even the canniest readers will have trouble picking him out from the resort’s motley cast of characters.
- Died in the Wool – World War II rages on, and Inspector Roderick Alleyn continues as the Special Branch’s eyes and ears in New Zealand. Flossie Rubrick, an influential Member of Parliament and the wife of a sheep farmer, is murdered. Had she made political enemies? Had a mysterious legacy prompted her death? Or could the shadowy world of international espionage have intruded on this quiet farm?
- Money in the Morgue – (completed by Stella Duffy) Inspector Roderick Alleyn just wants to write a letter to his wife, but World War II, for one, keeps intruding. It’s war-work, after all, that has brought Alleyn to this seedy hospital in New Zealand’s hinterlands, and it’s the war that has left the hospital swimming in convalescing soldiers. Nor is the weather helping. A storm has killed the electrical power, leaving Alleyn, the soldiers, the medical staff and all stranded in the dark…with a murderer.
- Final Curtain – Sir Henry Ancred, a celebrated Shakespearian actor has arranged to have his portrait painted by Agatha Troy, wife of Inspector Roderick Alleyn. When Ancred is killed at his own birthday party, leaving behind a family full of suspects, Troy is pleased to hand things over to Alleyn.
- Swing Brother Swing – Lord Pastern and Baggot is a classic English eccentric, given to passionate, peculiar enthusiasms. His latest? Drumming in a jazz band. His wife is not amused, and even less so when her daughter falls hard for Carlos Rivera, the band’s sleazy piano player. Aside from the young woman, nobody likes Rivera very much, so there’s a wealth of suspects when he is shot in during a performance. Happily, Inspector Alleyn is in the audience.
- Night at the Vulcan – The shabby Vulcan theater is not where Martyn Tarne hoped to work when she moved from New Zealand to London to pursue an acting career. But Martyn takes a job as dresser to the Vulcan’s leading lady. This provides her with a ringside seat to the backstage circus: the aging alcoholic actor, the waspish playwright, the surprisingly gracious grande dame. There is, of course, a murder, so–enter Inspector Alleyn.
- Spinsters in Jeopardy – Inspector Alleyn has decamped for the South of France for a family vacation. Well, that and a little official poking around. Unfortunately, the object of his poking—the cultish denizens of a sinister and luxurious chateau—are not fond of being poked, and they have a particularly unpleasant way of getting their point across. More a thriller than a whodunit, this is a fresh take for Marsh, while retaining the cleverness and vivid characterizations that her fans demand.
- Scales of Justice – In an almost unspeakably charming little English village, and its cast of inbred aristocrats. When one of the aristos turns up dead next to the local trout-stream—with a trout at his side—everyone is dreadfully upset, but really, just a tad irritated as well: Murder is so awfully messy. Thank gawd that nice Inspector Alleyn is on hand to clear things up.
- Death of a Fool – At the winter solstice, South Mardian’s swordsmen weave their blades in an ancient ritual dance. But for one of them, the excitement proves too heady, and his decapitation turns the fertility rite into a pageant of death. Now Inspector Roderick Alleyn must penetrate not only the mysteries of folklore, but the secrets and sins of an eccentric group that includes a surly blacksmith, a domineering dowager, and a not-so-simple village idiot.
- Singing in the Shrouds – The good ship Cape Farewell is steaming out to sea, with a passenger list and crew fairly littered with the shifty, the twitchy, the peculiar, and the up-to-no-good. Arguably the up-to-no-goodest is a strangler with a romantic streak: He likes to leave his ladies with a flower and a charming little song. Alleyn boards the Cape at Portsmouth determined that no one else is going to get strangled on his watch.
- False Scent – Mary Bellamy is the sweetheart of the London stage, fluffy as only an elderly lady of 50(!) can be. Her fans and friends are heartbroken when somehow Mary manages to spritz herself not with her favorite perfume but with the deadly insecticide meant to be sprayed on the azaleas. Inspector Roderick Alleyn begins by smelling something fishy, but he very quickly starts smelling something different…something like a rat.
- Hand in Glove – One has to admit that the timing was peculiar. No one could doubt that Mr. Percival Pyke was genuinely distraught to hear that his neighbor, Harry Cartell, had turned up dead in a ditch. Yes he was boring, and yes he was stuffy, but who would kill a man for the crime of being a bad conversationalist? If tediousness has become grounds for murder, Inspector Roderick Alleyn shudders to think of the body count to come.
- Dead Water – The elderly Emily Pride is perfectly pleased to have inherited an island, even if her starchy pragmatism is ever-so-faintly appalled by the “Pixie Falls” spring and its reported miraculous healing properties. But really, the locals’ attempts to capitalize on the “miracles” are entirely too tacky. Of course, the locals are not exactly thrilled to give up their trade. Could their frustration have bubbled up into murderous rage? Inspector Roderick Alleyn will have to sort it out. And this time, it’s personal.
- Killer Dolphin – The impresario Peregrine Jay has fulfilled a long-cherished dream: Thanks to a very generous gift, he now owns the Dolphin Theatre. To celebrate the re-opening, a production of The Glove, a new play about the discovery of a true Shakespearean accessory. London’s chattering classes are abuzz with gossip about the theatre. But when murder takes center-stage, everyone gets very quiet, and only Inspector Roderick Alleyn can persuade them to start chattering again.
- Clutch of Constables – Agatha Troy has a special fondness for 19th-century painter John Constable’s work, so she jumps at the chance to take a river-cruise through “Constable Country” in the east of England. Her enthusiasm dims a little when it becomes clear that the ticket became available at the last minute only because a previous passenger was murdered in his cabin.
- When in Rome – When their guide disappears mysteriously in the depths of a Roman Basilica, the members of Mr Sebastian Mailer’s tour group seem strangely unperturbed. But when a body is discovered in an Etruscan sarcophagus, Superintendent Roderick Alleyn, in Rome incognito on the trail of an international drug racket, is very much concerned…
- Tied Up in Tinsel – It’s 1972. At a Christmas party, Agatha Troy is enjoying the local holiday pageant and also painting the host’s portrait. The painting’s coming along fine, but the pageant goes a little pear-shaped when one of the players disappears. What luck! Inspector Roderick Alleyn is on hand to wrap up the questions into the perfect Christmas parcel.
- Black As He’s Painted – Ng’ombwana is an African nation to have emerged in the wake of colonialism; as it happens, its President is Inspector Roderick Alleyn’s old school chum, the “Boomer.” Old school ties being what they are, the Boomer—making an official visit to London—insists that Alleyn handle his security, rather than Her Majesty’s Special Branch. The Special Branch is not best pleased about this, as the Boomer is known to have some very deadly enemies, and the threats only increase when the Ng’ombwanan ambassador is killed.
- Last Ditch – Ricky Alleyn first appeared in Spinsters in Jeopardy, as a child. He’s now 21, and has taken himself off to a secluded island to write a novel. The distractions abound, mostly in the form of colorful local characters (and a rather dishy one), so all is beer and skittles (well, except for the novel) until Ricky stumbles across a murder and then gets himself kidnapped. Which brings Inspector Roderick Alleyn to the island.
- Grave Mistake – Sybil Foster’s life is not delightful, even if she does have an extremely talented gardener. Exhausted from her various family stresses, Sybil takes herself off to a local hotel that specializes in soothing shattered nerves. When she’s killed, Inspector Roderick Alleyn has a real puzzler on his hands: Yes, she was silly, snobbish, and irritating. But if that were enough motive for murder, half of England would be six feet under.
- Photo Finish – The dead soprano Isabella Sommita was widely loathed, so much so that the problem is less a lack of plausible suspects than an embarrassment of options. Especially on a lavish island estate cut off from the mainland by a sudden storm. Inspector Alleyn takes charge of the investigation in the coppers’ absence.
- Light Thickens – Peregrine Jay, owner of the Dolphin Theatre, is putting on a magnificent production of Macbeth, the play that, superstition says, always brings bad luck. But one night the claymore swings, and the dummy’s head is more than real: murder behind the scene. Luckily, Chief Superintendent Roderick Alleyn is in the audience.
If you like our article about the Roderick Alleyn series in order, don’t forget to bookmark it! You may also be interested in Hercule Poirot by Agatha Christie and the Inspector Lynley series by Elizabeth George.
This article was last updated on April 16, 2023.