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Wade into a Gripping Classic Mystery with Ngaio Marsh's Dead Water

What happens when miracles turn into murder?

dead water excerpt

What if any affliction could be healed by simply washing it away? That's the proclaimed "miracle" of Pixie Falls spring. The aging Emily Pride is thrilled to have inherited an island, but her down-to-earth sensibilities are appalled by the rumors of this magic water source. The attempts by locals to turn a profit with it are even worse, leading to a gauche gift shop and tasteless neon signs.

Miss Emily is determined to turn the island's image around, but the locals aren't so willing to lose their easy extra income. But are they peeved enough to resort to murder? That's exactly what Inspector Alleyn is here to find out—in an investigation that is personal this time around.

Read on for an excerpt of Dead Water, then purchase the book!




Dead Water

By Ngaio Marsh



Do You Believe in Fairies?

Wally Trehern does. Small boy of Portcarrow Island had crop of warts that made life a misery.

Other Kids Shunned Him Because of his Disfigurement. So Wally washed his hands in the Pixie Falls and—you’ve guessed it.

This is what they looked like before.


And here they are now.

Wally, seen above with parents, by Pixie Falls, says mysterious green lady “told me to wash them off.”

Parents say no other treatment given.

Miss Elspeth Cost (inset) cured of chronic asthma?

Local doctor declines comment.

(Full story on Page 9.)

Dr. Maine read the full story, gave an ambiguous ejaculation and started on his morning round.

The Convalescent Home was a very small one: six single rooms for patients, and living quarters for two nurses and for Dr. Maine who was a widower. A veranda at the back of the house looked across a large garden and an adjacent field towards the sea and the Island.

At present he had four patients, all convalescent. One of them, an elderly lady, was already up and taking the air on the veranda. He noticed that she, like the others, had been reading The Sun.

“Well, Mrs. Thorpe,” he said, bending over her, “this is a step forward, isn’t it? If you go on behaving nicely we’ll soon have you taking that little drive.”

Mrs. Thorpe wanly smiled and nodded. “So unspoiled,” she said, waving a hand at the prospect. “Not many places left like it. No horrid trippers.”

He sat down beside her, laid his fingers on her pulse and looked at his watch. “This is becoming pure routine,” he said cheerfully.

It was obvious that Mrs. Thorpe had a great deal more to say. She scarcely waited for him to snap his watch shut before she began.

“Dr. Maine, have you see The Sun?”

“Very clearly. We’re in for a lovely day.”

She made a little dab at him. “Don’t be provoking! You know what I mean. The paper. Our news! The Island!”

“Oh, that. Yes, I saw that.”

“Now, what do you think? Candidly. Do tell me.”

He answered her as he had answered Patrick Ferrier. One heard of such cases. Medically there could be no comment.

“But you don’t pooh-pooh?”

No, no. He didn’t altogether do that. And now he really must—

As he moved away she said thoughtfully, “My little nephew is dreadfully afflicted. They are such an eyesore, aren’t they? And infectious, it’s thought. One can’t help wondering—”

His other patients were full of the news. One of them had a first cousin who suffered abominably from chronic asthma.

Miss Cost read it over and over again: especially the bit on page nine where it said what a martyr she’d been and how she had perfect faith in the waters. She didn’t remember calling them the Pixie Falls but now she came to think of it, the name was pretty. She wished she’d had time to do her hair before Mr. Joyce’s friend had taken the snapshot and it would have been nicer if her mouth had been quite shut. But still, at low tide she strolled over to the newsagent’s shop in the village. All their copies of The Sun, unfortunately, had been sold. There had been quite a demand. Miss Cost looked with a professional and disparaging eye at the shop. Nothing really at all in the way of souvenirs and the postcards were very limited. She bought three of the Island and covered the available space with fine writing. Her friend with arthritic hands would be interested.

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  • Photo Credit: Melpo Tsiliaki/Unsplash

Major Barrimore finished his coffee and replaced the cup with a slightly unsteady hand. His immaculately shaven jaws wore their morning purple tinge and his eyes were dull.

“Hasn’t been long about it,” he said, referring to his copy of The Sun. “Don’t waste much time, these paper wallahs. Only happened day-before-yesterday.”

He looked at his wife. “Well. Haven’t you read it?” he asked.

“I looked at it.”

“I don’t know what’s got into you. Why’ve you got your knife into this reporter chap? Decent enough fellah of his type.”

“Yes, I expect he is.”

“It’ll create a lot of interest. Enormous circulation. Bring people in, I wouldn’t wonder. Quite a bit about The Boy-and- Lobster.” She didn’t answer and he suddenly shouted at her.

“Damn it, Margaret, you’re about as cheerful as a dead fish. You’d think there’d been a death on the Island instead of a cure. God knows we could do with some extra custom.”

“I’m sorry, Keith. I know.”

He turned his paper to the racing page. “Where’s that son of yours?” he said presently.

“He and Jenny Williams were going to row round as usual to South Bay.”

“Getting very thick, aren’t they?”

“Not alarmingly so. She’s a dear girl.”

“If you can stomach the accent.”

“Hers is not so very strong, do you think?”

“P’raps not. She’s a fine strapping filly, I will say. Damn’ good legs. Oughtn’t he to be swotting?”

“He’s working quite hard, really.”

“Of course you’d say so.” He lit a cigarette and returned to the racing notes. The telephone rang.

“I will,” said Mrs. Barrimore.

She picked up the receiver. “Boy-and-Lobster. Yes. Yes.” There was a loud crackle and she said to her husband, “It’s from London.”

“If it’s Mrs. Winterbottom,” said her husband, referring to his suzerain, “I’m out.”

After a moment or two the call came through. “Yes,” she said. “Certainly. Yes, we can. A single room? May I have your name?”

There were two other long-distance calls during the day.

By the end of the week the five rooms at The Boy-and-Lobster were all engaged.

A correspondence had got under way in The Sun on the subject of faith-healing and unexplained cures. On Friday there were inquiries from a regular television programme. 

The school holidays had started and Jenny Williams had come to the end of her job at Portcarrow.

While the Barrimores were engaged in their breakfast discussion, the Rector and Mrs. Carstairs were occupied with the same topic. The tone of their conversation was, however, dissimilar.

“There!” Mr. Carstairs said, smacking The Sun as it lay by his plate. “There! Wretched creature! He’s gone and done it!”

“’T, yes, so he has. I saw. Now for the butcher,” said Mrs. Carstairs who was worrying through the monthly bills.

“No, Dulcie, but it’s too much. I’m furious,” said the Rector uncertainly. “I’m livid.”

“Are you? Why? Because of the vulgarity or what? And what,” Mrs. Carstairs continued, “does Nankivell mean by saying ‘2 lbs best fil.’ when we never order fillet, let alone best? Stewing steak at the utmost. He must be mad.”

“It’s not only the vulgarity, Dulcie. It’s the effect on the village.”

“What effect? And threepence ha’penny is twelve, two, four. It doesn’t even begin to make sense.”

“It’s not that I don’t rejoice for the boy. I do. I rejoice like anything and remember it in my prayers.”

“Of course you do,” said his wife.

“That’s my whole point. One should be grateful and not jump to conclusions.”

“I shall speak to Nankivell. What conclusions?”

“Some ass,” said the Rector, “has put it into the Treherns’ heads that—O dear!—that there’s been a—a—”


“Don’t! One shouldn’t. It’s not a word to be bandied about. And they are bandying it about, those two.”

“So much for Nankivell and his rawhide,” she said, turning to the next bill. “No, dear, I’m sure it’s not. All the same it is rather wonderful.”

“So are all recoveries. Witnesses to God’s mercy, my love.”

“Were the Treherns drunk?”

“Yes,” he said shortly. “As owls. The Romans know how to deal with these things. Much more talk and we’ll be in need of a devil’s advocate.”

“Don’t fuss,” said Mrs. Carstairs, “I expect it’ll all simmer down.”

“I hae me doots,” her husband darkly rejoined. “Yes, Dulcie. I hae me doots.”

“How big is the Island?” Jenny asked, turning on her face to brown her back.

“Teeny. Not more than fourteen acres, I should think.”

“Who does it belong to?”

“To an elderly lady called Mrs. Fanny Winterbottom who is the widow of a hairpin king. He changed over to bobby-pins at the right moment and became a millionaire. The Island might be called his Folly.”

“Pub and all?”

“Pub and all. My mother,” Patrick said, “has shares in the pub. She took it on when my stepfather was axed out of the Army.”

“It’s Heaven: the Island. Not too pretty. This bay might almost be at home. I’ll be sorry to go.”

“Do you get homesick, Jenny?”

“A bit. Sometimes. I miss the mountains and the way people think. All the same, it’s fun trying to get tuned-in. At first, I was all prickles and antipodean prejudice, bellyaching away about living conditions like the Treherns’ cottage and hidebound attitudes and so on. But now—” She squinted up at Patrick. “It’s funny,” she said, “but I resent that rotten thing in the paper much more than you do and it’s not only because of Wally. It’s a kind of insult to the Island.”

“It made me quite cross too, you know.”

“English understatement. Typical example of.”

He gave her a light smack on the seat.

“When I think,” Jenny continued, working herself into a rage, “of how that brute winkled the school group out of the Treherns and when I think how he had the damned impertinence to put a ring round me—”

“‘Red-headed Jennifer Williams says warts were frightful,’” Patrick quoted.

“How he dared!”

“It’s not red, actually. In the sun it’s copper. No, gold almost.”

“Never you mind what it is. O Patrick—”

“Don’t say ‘Ow Pettruck’.”

“Shut up.”

“Well, you asked me to stop you. And it is my name.”

“All right. Ae-oh, Pe-ah-trick, then.”


“Do you suppose it might lead to a ghastly invasion? People smothered in warts and whistling with asthma bearing down from all points of the compass?”


“A Giffte Shoppe.”

“Wire-netting round the spring.”

“And a bob to get in.”

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  • Photo Credit: Delaney Van/Unsplash

“It’s a daunting picture,” Patrick said. He picked up a stone and hurled it into the English Channel. “I suppose,” he muttered, “it would be profitable.”

“No doubt.” Jenny turned to look at him and sat up. “Oh, no doubt,” she repeated. “If that’s a consideration.”

“My dear, virtuous Jenny, of course it’s a consideration. I don’t know whether, in your idyllic antipodes, you’ve come across the problem of constant hard-upness. If you haven’t I can assure you it’s not much cop.”

“Well, but I have. And, Patrick, I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”

“I’ll forgive you. I’ll go further and tell you that unless things look up a bit at The Boy-and-Lobster or, alternatively, unless my stepfather can be moved to close his account with his bookmaker and keep his hands off the whisky bottle you’ll be outstaying us on the Island.”


“I’m afraid so. And the gentlemen of the Inns of Court will be able to offer their dinners to some more worthy candidate. I shan’t eat them. I shall come down from Oxford and sell plastic combs from door to door. Will you buy one for your red-gold hair?” Patrick began to throw stones as fast as he could pick them up. “It’s not only that,” he said presently. “It’s my mama. She’s in a pretty dim situation, anyway, but here, at least, she’s—” He stood up. “Well, Jenny,” he said. “There’s a sample of the English reticence that strikes you as being so comical.” He walked down to the boat and hauled it an unnecessary inch or two up the beach.

Jenny felt helpless. She watched him and thought that he made a pleasing figure against the sea as he tugged back in the classic posture of controlled energy.

“What am I to say to him?” she wondered. “And does it matter what I say?”

He took their luncheon basket out of the boat and returned to her.

“Sorry about all that,” he said. “Shall we bathe before the tide changes and then eat? Come on.”

She followed him down to the sea and lost her sensation of inadequacy as she battled against the incoming tide. They swam, together and apart, until they were tired and then returned to the beach and had their luncheon. Patrick was well-mannered and attentive and asked her a great many questions about New Zealand and the job she hoped to get, teaching English in Paris. It was not until they had decided to row back to their own side of the Island and he had shipped his oars, that he returned to the subject that waited, Jenny felt sure, at the back of both their minds.

“There’s the brow of the hill,” he said. “Just above our beach. And below it, on the far side, is the spring. Did you notice that Miss Cost, in her interview, talked about the Pixie Falls?”

“I did. With nausea.”

He rowed round the point into Fisherman’s Bay.

“Sentiment and expediency,” he said, “are uneasy bedfellows. But, of course, it doesn’t arise. It’s quite safe to strike an attitude and say you’d rather sell plastic combs than see the prostitution of the place you love. There won’t be any upsurge of an affluent society on Portcarrow Island. It will stay like this—as we both admire it, Jenny. Only we shan’t be here to see. Two years from now and everybody will have forgotten about Wally Trehern’s warts.”

He could scarcely have been more at fault. Before two years had passed everybody in Great Britain who could read a newspaper knew all about Wally Trehern’s warts and because of them the Island had been transformed.

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Images: Melpo Tsiliaki/Unsplash; Delaney Van/Unsplash