Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Unearthing the secrets of Christchurch’s Queen of Crime

This year marks 40 years since New Zealand’s “Queen of Crime” Dame Ngaio Marsh passed away, with the anniversary inspiring a new exhibition by Christchurch City Libraries.

Dame Ngaio Marsh’s life was almost as much of a mystery as her famous detective novels.

She lived a completely private life, despite being dubbed one of the “Queens of Crime” alongside names like Agatha Christie and selling more than two million copies of her novels.

Dame Ngaio Marsh.

And was also full of dualities.

When Dame Ngaio was not walking down the streets of London in her most extravagant fashion, she was rehearsing a play with students in a cold, old brewery in Christchurch, smoking cigarettes and eating chicken sandwiches for lunch.

Living independently and providing for herself all her life, she did not fit the norm and was pretty unconventional for the times – an enigma. 

These days, her home, Marton Cottage on the Port Hills, has been turned into a museum and is preserved by the Ngaio Marsh House and Heritage Trust volunteers.

And this year marks 40 years since Dame Ngaio passed away.

It was all of this that inspired the Christchurch City Libraries to go In Search of Ngaio for its latest exhibition.

Running from Saturday 27 August to 27 November, the exhibition at Tūranga uncovers her work and life as a crime writer, theatre director, painter and mentor.

“Amongst the material, a keen detective eye will be able to find rare manuscripts and writing notes (she burnt most of them), play production books, her own artwork and even a beret – her signature style accessory,” Exhibitions Project Manager Louisa Vowles said.

“We’re really excited for people to come, learn more about and celebrate this Christchurch icon.”

Throughout September, October and November there will be guest readers reading Dame Ngaio short stories, as well as a panel discussion with crime writers Val McDermid, Michael Robotham and J.P. Pomore before they present the 2022 Ngaio March Awards for Best Novel and Best First Novel.

The exhibition includes material from Ngaio Marsh House and Heritage Trust, St Margaret’s College, Alexander Turnbull Library, Ngā Taonga Sound and Vision and Christchurch City Libraries.

Ngaio Marsh House and Heritage Trust Chair Jessica Petersen said: “We are delighted to partner with Christchurch City Libraries in this fascinating exhibition. Dame Ngaio was a trailblazer who shaped the development of the crime fiction genre and the theatre scene New Zealanders enjoy today.  We hope the exhibition will help more people uncover the incredible story of the city’s most famous grand dame.”

All the exhibition events and details can be found here. And check out more history about Ōtautahi’s Queen of Crime, Dame Ngaio here, where you can also book a tour of Ngaio Marsh House, her Christchurch home for more than 70 years.

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