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The Inspector Alleyn Mysteries
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A list of the episodes and cast lists for one of the best ever British detective series, based on the novels of Dame Ngaio Marsh.

Roderick Alleyn is a fictional character: the hero and detective in Ngaio Marsh's 32 detective novels.

Alleyn is a "gentleman policeman", in a style later used by P. D. James for her detective Adam Dalgliesh. He is a Chief Inspector or Chief Superintendent in the Criminal Investigation Department (C.I.D.) of Scotland Yard. He is Oxford-educated and the author of a book: Principles and Practice of Criminal Investigations, by Roderick Alleyn, M.A. (Oxon), C.I.D. (Sable and Murgatroyd, 21s), mentioned in Chapter Six of Vintage Murder.

In earlier novels, he is single, later meeting and marrying Agatha Troy, a famous painter. They have one son, Ricky, who is the protagonist of one of Marsh's last novels, Last Ditch, which also features his policeman father.

Marsh mentions in an introduction that she named her detective Alleyn after Alleyn's School, where her father had been a pupil. Like the school and the Elizabethan actor Edward Alleyn after whom the school is named, the detective's surname is pronounced "Allen".

Four of the novels were adapted for New Zealand television in 1977, with Alleyn played by George Baker. Colour Scheme and Died in the Wool are set in New Zealand, while Opening Night and Final Curtain are set in London. The theme of Opening Night involves a New Zealand actress with a startling resemblance to the lead actor.

Nine novels with British settings were adapted for British television. In the second series, Alleyn was played by Simon Williams in the first story, Artists in Crime (1990), and then by Patrick Malahide in eight more tales (1993-94): A Man Lay Dead, The Nursing Home Murder, Final Curtain (the second TV adaptation), Death at the Bar, Death in a White Tie, Hand in Glove, Dead Water and Scales of Justice.

The Malahide episodes are brilliant beyond imagining. Here's how one user of the IMDb site reviewed the show:

Ngaio Marsh was indeed a brilliant writer; her detective stories have in fact made a great TV series, and this is it. Patrick Malahide is a gifted actor, it's true, and he was perfectly cast as Roderick Alleyn, precisely because he makes of him so much more than "a stereotype toff." I agree that Marsh's Alleyn remains elusive as a personality throughout the series of novels; and Malahide, sensing this essential quality of Marsh's hero, allows a cloud of reticence to hover around his Alleyn to exquisitely ambiguous and subtle effect. Troy, played with equal finesse and discretion by Belinda Lang, is, in fact, portrayed as "an individualist with her own career as a painter" -- in fact, one episode (Final Curtain) features her prominently, on her own, noting many crucial clues while fulfilling a portrait commission! (Needless to say, she never says "You never have time for me!" or anything of the sort.) The adaptations are extremely clever and elegant, managing to retain much of the loveliness of Marsh's unparalleled drawing-room conversation while keeping within the time limits set by a 98- minute format. Period detail is not "ladled on," at all. On the contrary, the art direction, cinematography (a nearly subliminal sepia filter tints the series) and set decoration are, as we've come to expect of these British productions, impeccable and always convincing. The comparison of Marsh's stories -- and this production of them -- with those of P. D. James is useless: Marsh's readership and tone were entirely unlike those of James, and their books are apples and oranges. It's childish to rank one over the other. The pace is leisurely -- not "slow and badly done." The "interplay of characters" is extraordinarily full and complex throughout the series -- but it is subtle, discreet and low-key, all evidently the sort of virtues which threaten to put some critics and their wives to sleep.

In short, if you enjoy civilized old-school British mystery of the very best sort, you can't do much better than Malahide and Lang in The Inspector Alleyn Mysteries. I for one can't wait for the second DVD set.


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