Classic British Cozy Mystery with Classic British Cozy Mystery Dialogue

A little while ago, I was driving somewhere, listening to Death in Ecstasy by Ngaio Marsh. (And, incidentally, loving it!) The only problem I have with audio books is that you can’t simply mark the spot with a bookmark so you can refer to it later. In this case, I thought some of the dialogue was so clever, I simply HAD to go find a place to park, in order to transcribe the words>>> which meant having to reverse and play my audio book several times. (So, these might not be the exact words, but if they aren’t, they are really close.)

For those of you who haven’t yet read any of the Ngaio Marsh Inspector Alleyn mysteries, shame on you! They are British Cozy Mystery classics, some of the best!

What I found endearing about the following conversation that occurs between Inspector Roderick Alleyn and Nigel Bathgate (a journalist cohort), is the way Marsh takes the reader along for a ride with these two fictional characters, discussing mystery books written by contemporary authors of Marsh’s. She is able to make the reader (just about!) forget he/she is reading about fictional characters.

Question regarding who the murderer could be:

“…  “let’s pretend it’s a detective novel. Where would we be by this time? About halfway through, I should think. Well, who’s your pick?”


“It depends on the author. If it’s Agatha Christie, Miss Wades … guilt drips from every page. Dorothy Sayer’s Lord Peter would plump for … Inspector French would go for…”  (Inspector French was the fictional character in Freeman Wills Crofts’ mystery books, written at the same time.)

I found it to be quite clever that Marsh would have her fictional characters refer to current mystery authors, as if her fictional characters weren’t exactly that: fictional characters!

When I told my husband about this, he quickly responded that he thinks Agatha Christie had her fictional characters – Tommy and Tuppence – also name current mystery authors in their dialogue.

Can you think of any other Cozy Mystery authors’ fictional characters who refer to real Cozy Mystery authors?


  1. Kay says

    It seems to me that Edmund Crispin did that, but I can’t put my finger on the situation.

    The Tommy and Tuppence story your husband refers to, Secret Adversary, had Tommy solving a case in each chapter by using the methods of different fictional detectives. Great fun.

    I cracked up when Elizabeth Peters complained about Barbara Michaels winning so many awards for (sneer) gothic romances. Of course, those two are fictional characters only in the sense that they’re both alter egos of Barbara Mertz.

    Ngaio Marsh books are definitely worth reading.

      • Danna - cozy mystery list says

        *Susan, I may just have to re-read all of Agatha Christie’s Tommy and Tuppence mysteries!

        • Kay says

          Susan, you’re totally right. I was writing from memory, in a hurry, early in the morning. Secret Adversary is the first one in the series. Partners in Crime, the second, is my favorite of the Tommy and Tuppence stories – the chapter crimes are delightful.

          • Danna - cozy mystery list says

            Kay, your memory is a whole lot better than mine ever was! Once I’ve read several books by an author, I can’t remember what happened in which book…

            (My husband can also remember which books had different events, so I sometimes rely on him to help me remember the details.)

    • says

      Elizabeth Peters did a remarkable job of it in the last Vicky Bliss book–she referred several times to the characters in her other series: Amelia Peabody. Having read both series I LOVED it!!!

      I also saw the Barbara Michaels complaint. Peters has such a wonderful sense of humor–and it totally shows in her books. I recently did a buddy read for my blog of the first Vicky Bliss mystery. I read it again after 20 some years–it held up despite the years in between and me being a lot older. I still loved it!!! And the person who did the buddy read with me (she read it for the first time) loved it too!!!

  2. Larraine says

    I love Ngaio Marsh as well as Christie, but I really question calling them “cozies.” There’s nothing particularly cozy about these books. They are chilling and amazingly well-written. Christie’s “Tommy & Tuppence” probably fall into the “cozy” classification actually. However, I’ve read everything by Marsh and there’s nothing “cozy” there.

    • Danna - cozy mystery list says

      Larraine, even though Inspector Alleyn is a detective, as is Poirot, I consider both Marsh and Christie as Cozy Mystery authors. Both did the following: no graphic/gratuitous language or adult situations, no gory or bloody details, and, even though they both dealt with death and killing, “gentle” mystery books where most of the awful details are not center-stage. Lots of twists and turns, great plot and character development, and lots of red herrings.

      When referring to a knife-stabbing, Agatha Christie’s Poirot said it best when he said “The next details are purely medical and can be ommited.” (from Agatha Christie‘s Thirteen at Dinner)

      I may include more things into my personal definition of a Cozy Mystery, but I see both authors as quite Cozy.

      • Julia says

        My personal understanding of the term “cozy” also includes the criteria that the number of suspects is relatively small and all had some personal connection/grudge with the (principal) victim. In other words, no thrill kills or stranger killers. In this respect, Marsh and Christie also qualify.

        • Danna - cozy mystery list says

          Julia, I like that “no thrill kills” rule. I get pretty fed up with authors who just throw a character into a book “in passing” and then at the end, the murderer/culprit turns out to be that tertiary character! It’s enough for me to cross the author off my “favorite authors” list – which I have to admit, is getting shorter and shorter these days. (I simply don’t suffer fools as easily as I used to, or I am in a “lousy reading” mood!)

  3. Denise says

    What about Carolyn G. Hart’s Annie Darling and the Death on Demand series? There are always comments about books and authors and of course the paintings of events in books every month that her patrons have to identify and of course win a prize.

    • Cathy says

      Exactly who I was thinking about, Denise…..her comments about other books and authors have led me to some great reading!

      • Danna - cozy mystery list says

        Cathy, it’s terrific that Carolyn Hart’s current mysteries can help spread the word about other books and authors.

    • Judith says

      I keep thinking that one of these days I will go through and put together a list of the books referenced in the paintings so I can read the ones I haven’t already, but I haven’t found the time yet. I did start reading Mary Roberts Rinehart because of the Death on Demand series – how had I missed them before!

      • Danna - cozy mystery list says

        Judith, every once in a while I find an author who has been around a while, who I have never read, and I feel the same way you do about Mary Roberts Rinehart. I sort of remember feeling that way when I finally found Stuart Palmer, Ngaio Marsh, Patricia Moyes, and Cyril Hare. (“I-could-have-had-a-V-8 types of moments!)

  4. *Susan says

    Conan Doyle did it in ‘Study in Scarlet’, too. Watson is enthusing about some of his favourite detective authors, and Holmes is being absolutely scathing! (‘Miserable Bungler’, is one choice epithet, IIRC.) Absolutely classic! 😀

  5. Angela says

    Danna, I had the same reaction to that paragraph in Marsh’s book when I read it earlier this year! It seems to me that modern cozy authors are always referencing Christie. They will have their sleuths say things like “Who do I think I am Miss Marple?” or “I’m no Miss Marple” along those lines. I’ve also noticed they will reference their contemporaries by mentioning them in passing especially if the main character is somehow involved with books i.e. librarian, bookstore owner etc…

    Oh and just my 2 cents on the subject I absolutely consider Christie and Marsh as cozies as you have defined them.

    • Danna - cozy mystery list says

      Angela, I was just so taken when I heard that passage… referencing authors who were her contemporaries, it made me wonder if they ever got together – like the Inklings (an Oxford group of academics who wrote fantasy fiction – amongst them were J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis).

      You are so right about current authors referencing Christie!

      • Judith says

        Dorothy Sayers and Agatha Christie were part of the Detection Club. The group wrote some books, like The Floating Admiral, where each author wrote a chapter of mystery. Apparently their oath is “Do you promise that your detectives shall well and truly detect the crimes presented to them using those wits which it may please you to bestow upon them and not placing reliance on nor making use of Divine Revelation, Feminine Intuition, Mumbo Jumbo, Jiggery-Pokery, Coincidence, or Act of God?”

  6. alfred says

    Hi Danna I just got done reading A Killer Read by Erika Chase. It is a first mystery in the new Ashton Corners series. When the character Lizzie Turner went to a bookstore of her friends, the clerk said that she has to read the new novel Chapter and Hearse by Lorna Barrett plus one or two others. But what is interesting in it is there is a bookclub of members and in the back of the book it has a reading list of all the members and about 5 authors that they had read for the bookclub. If you want to see the list you can go to and look in the table of contents under the author for the list. I am now reading Brownies and Broomsticks by Bailey Cates.

    • Danna - cozy mystery list says

      Thank you, Alfred, for adding Erika Chase to the list of authors who refer to other authors.

  7. Deb says

    Danna, I’m glad you brought up Ngaio Marsh – I just love her books. I’ve got to put them on my rereading list. But now I’m confused over whether it’s Roderick Alleyn or Josephine Tey’s Alan Grant who shares a phobia which I thought I was the only one in the world who had! One of the two was going over a bridge in a car driven by someone else and had a terrifying urge to open the door and jump out! I have the same urge on high bridges and was – well, I guess “delighted” isn’t exactly the right word – to find that at least one other person, albeit fictional, had the same problem! Does anyone remember which character this was? I sort of think it was in Daughter of Time, but maybe not.

    • Danna - cozy mystery list says

      Deb, I don’t remember Roderick Alleyn having the bridge-jump urge. So, if it’s between those two, I would guess it was Alan Grant. But, that’s just a very wild guess, based on absolutely no facts…

  8. linda c says

    When authors use quotes or passages from books other than their own, do these writers have to pay any royalties for this? A lot of time some cozies will have certain national products, such as McDonalds, or Tide, or Spick and Span, or so forth in their stories. Do these writers have to ask permission? At one time old TV shows would use some kind of made up name for say a laundry soap, not a national brand because of some sort of infringement rights. Is this still the case? Just something I have often wondered about. A lot of mysteries often mention reading the Harry Potter books to their children. Do these people have to get written permission from J.K. Rawlings?

    I haven’t read any Marsh books but I have read Agatha Christie and I would say her books qualify as being cozies. I would think her books would be the forerunners of cozies.

    • Danna - cozy mystery list says

      Good question, Linda C. I’ll ask my daughter and see if she studied any of those laws in school.

      Just this morning, I was telling her I used to enjoy playing armchair lawyer with her when we watched a true crime show. Those days are gone, but it is fun to ask her legal questions when I feel a lawyer or police chief on one of those true crime shows did something idiotic…

  9. Regina says

    I am a fan of Ngaio Marsh. I recently bought all her books and I am rereading them one at a time infrequently. Too much of them at one time can be a bit over the top. The other day I was reading one of Katherine Hall Page’s books. It was the one where Pix is on the San Per island and she begins to read a book by Angela Thirkell, an author who is not very well known but whom I like very much.

    • Danna - cozy mystery list says

      Regina, thanks for telling us about Katherine Hall Page’s reference to Angela Thirkell. I just looked Thirkell up and see she was quite prolific…

  10. Carrie says

    Returning to your question about cozy mystery authors’ fictional characters who refer to real cozy mystery authors …

    In James Anderson’s book, I think it was “The Case of the Mutilated Mink”, his character Inspector Allgood mentions Inspector Appleby and Roderick Alleyn and refers to them as the three famous A’s of detection, completely deluding himself that he is the third one.

    To save those of you who haven’t read the Inspector Appleby books looking it up, they are written by Michael Innes and are well worth reading.

    Finally, I agree with you Danna, Ngaio Marsh’s books are definitely within my definition of cozy mystery books.

    • Danna - cozy mystery list says

      Carrie, I just added Michael Innes’ first Inspector Appleby to my queue. Thanks for the heads-up about how good his mysteries are. I look forward to enjoying some of Inspector Appleby’s exploits!

  11. says

    Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe that in Christie’s “Seven Dials Mystery” she referred to a number of other writers of her day. That wasn’t a Tommy/Tuppence book but it’s a great mystery, one of my favorite Christies. I believe that Christie, Sayers, and a number of others were members of “The Detection Club” and that they met regularly to discuss mysteries, writing, challenged each other, etc. This was a club they formed and membership was by invitation only. Wish I could have been a fly on the wall!

    • says

      Correction, it wasn’t Seven Dials, it was The Clocks. I always get those titles mixed up! Both books are great reads involving little wind up clocks in mysterious circumstances. In The Clocks, Poirot goes on for about two pages, commenting on various mysteries from Sherlock Holmes to current writers (of that day). It’s pretty entertaining!

    • Danna - cozy mystery list says

      Sorry, Donna, I haven’t read any of Agatha Christie’s Inspector Battles mysteries yet.

      You’re not kidding about being a fly on the wall at one of The Detection Club meetings. They sound like they must have been crazy-fun!

  12. Nita R says

    I just found your site and I am so excited. I have tried to find a place, even at the library, where I could find more authors like MC Beaton and Lilian Jackson Braun.

    I now have a place to come to. I love reading. I love mysteries but not the horror ones. I like to be a little funny and quirky. I love the way these authors take everyday people, tell us about them as if we were best friends and then put a mystery right in the middle.

    Thank you again for this site. I think I found home. :)

    • Danna - cozy mystery list says

      Welcome to the site, Nita R! It sounds like you’re in the right place. I’ve found new-to-me authors from other Cozy Mystery readers, and hope you have the same luck.

      Right now I am in the middle of a Monica Ferris Needlecraft mystery, and for the most part, I feel like they are “friends” of mine. (Unfortunately, there is one woman who comes to the Crewel World needlework shop for whom I wouldn’t mind throwing a permanent bon voyage party!)

  13. Deb says

    Welcome, Nita R. I know just how you feel. I’ve been reading cozy mysteries for about 55 years and have rarely had a place or people where cozies are celebrated. Finding this blog was magic! I have it on one of my IE tabs and check it several times a day just to see who’s commented and what they have to say about authors I’ve neglected or never read. Enjoy!

  14. Regina says

    Danna, You certainly made a very true statement when you called Thirkell prolific. I think she wrote over 30 books about her imaginary county in England. My children bought all of her books years ago before they started re printing them. I am still reading Page’s books. I finished #9 yesterday. Today I am dogsitting for my son’s aged basset hound Bo. All he does is sleep so I can keep reading.

    • Danna - cozy mystery list says

      Regina, I wish I were dogsitting! Instead, I just got back from the grocery store and Michael’s, only to find out that I bought the wrong yarn color, and have to go back and exchange it. Two out of twelve boxes my daughter sent home from school were lost: two suits and an afghan I crocheted for her years ago. The afghan is what disappointed her the most, so I will be making her a new one this summer. (OF course, there is probably no great rush. Her winters in Austin will be quite different than those she experienced in Cambridge!)

  15. Eric M says

    I don’t see MC Beaton’s Agatha Raisin’s ongoing references to Agatha Christie’s novels yet. As she stumbles her way through investigations, she thinks about Agatha Christie’s stories and other characters do the same.

    • Danna - cozy mystery list says

      Thanks, Eric M, for telling us about M. C. Beaton having Agatha Raisin reflect on what Agatha Christie would have her characters do.

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