Dame Ngaio Marsh wrote the first few chapters, the title and the timeframe for this novel, which is set in New Zealand during the Second World War, and Stella Duffy has solved the crime and completed the novel for publication. And you would be hard pressed to find where one stops and the other starts.
With a storm raging and rivers rising, a hospital in the Canterbury highlands is the scene of a robbery, then of murder – and is also where Chief Detective Inspector Roderick Alleyn of Scotland Yard is holed up on an espionage-related assignment. Alleyn comes out of hiding to take on the solving of the robbery and the murder, as the hospital is cut off by the storm and unreachable by the local constabulary, and the denouement of the treasonous plot he is trying to halt is scheduled for the next daybreak. Confined by space, time and a limited cast of characters, Alleyn enlists Army Sergeant Bix to help him sort out the multiple crimes.
Money in the morgue is a golden age whodunnit, full of clues and interesting characters and quite farcical revelations. But the story and all the crimes are underpinned by the horrors of the war and the impact it is having on New Zealand and on those who have served, and who are waiting to get back to the fray. And it is also full of the love of the New Zealand environment, nicely gawped at by Alleyn as he wearily works through the night to solve the smaller crimes and forestall a much bigger one.
The characters are great, just a few: the overweight and overwrought Mr Glossop, a payroll delivery man; Sarah Warne, a competent bus driver who has had a previous relationship with the resident young doctor, Luke Hughes, who is suffering a form of PTSD; another independent young woman, Rosamund Farquharson, who occasionally lets her confident demeanour slip … and many more. We get to know them as the night wears on, and we also get to know the wonderfully textured Alleyn. Missing his wife, his home and his partner, Alleyn is puzzled by this strange country, and by its people with their odd turns of phrase. But armed with the insights of Shakespeare, he realises the tragedies, the longings and the failings of people are universal and he gets the job done.
Money in the morgue is pacey and at times quite thrilling. All the clues are there to solve the crime and the descriptions of the New Zealand bush etc. are sumptuous. It is at once a nostalgic and a thoroughly engaging read. So do read it!