Surfeit of Lampreys by Ngaio Marsh: A review by Warren Bull
Surfeit of Lampreys was published in 1941. It starts like a comedy describing the eccentric Lamprey family as seen by a friend of the family, Roberta Grey. The family had a history of coming to the brink of economic ruin, trying ineffectually to stave off bankruptcy, and in the end being saved by happenstance. Grey was introduced to the family when during one money crisis Patricia (Patch) Lamprey was enrolled in a New Zealand boarding school rather than sent to England for her education as the other children had been. An invitation to spend a holiday with the Lampreys when she was fourteen was the start of Grey’s involvement with the family. She quickly became a fascinated and enthusiastic fan of everyone and everything Lamprey. They had charm by the bucket and common sense by the thimble.
After Grey’s parents were killed in an automobile accident, Grey, then twenty years old, came to England to live with an aunt. When the aunt became ill, Grey was again invited to stay with the Lamprey family. As frequently happened, the family was once again in debt and out of money. They hatched a plan for the head of the family, Charles, to ask his miserly older brother Gabriel, who was a Marquis, for a hefty loan.
The mystery begins when Gabriel is found murdered in a particularly nasty manner on the Lamprey property. Chief Detective –Inspector Alleyn is called in to solve the crime. Ill-conceived efforts by the Lamprey family to protect one another hamper the investigation and lies pile up faster than clues.
I thoroughly enjoyed the novel. If such a family did exist, I would be an ardent fan. I would also be an admirer of the detective. Marsh shows why she was considered one of the Queens of Crime with her deft writing, use of red herrings and absolutely fair play with the mystery.
Interestingly there was a family named Lamprey among the gentry at the time the book was written. They corresponded with the author. She apologized for using their name.
I recommend this novel very highly.