It is set in New Zealand, in a hot springs resort, run by Colonel Edward Claire, his wife, Agnes, and their grown children, Barbara and Simon. Before long, arguments are brewing, Barbara is causing a lot of male confusion and one of the party goes missing Of course, Ngaio Marsh was from New Zealand, and there is much about the Maoris in this novel, which is very interesting.
It all starts in wartime with a family of "genteel" Brits tired of life in India deciding to take a chance on something new and opening a Mud-Bath Spa. The father is a Colonel, mother is set on proprieties, daughter is sheltered and shy and son is independent and snarky. I do know there were television productions in New Zealand of some of these Alleyn books including this one, but it does not appear to be available any longer.
(That dubious honor must go to the plodding Overture To Death.) But Colour Scheme suffers from one of the same setbacks: Inspector Alleyn isn't introduced until too late in the novel.
There's the requisite case of insta-love that seems to crop up in so many of these, although this one is relatively well done and kind of interesting. I think I resent the relationships-of-the-case, because the other is apparently happening off-page. As is often the case with Marsh, the victim was fairly universally hated.
But the real reason I keep returning to Marsh is this; consider how she introduces the character of Maurice Questing; "Maurice Questing was about fifty years old and so much a type that a casual observer would have found it difficult to describe him. His speech, both in accent and in choice of words, was an affair of mass production rather than selection.
So...the last time I read Ngaio Marsh's Colour Scheme (1946), I gave it a very unenthusiastic two stars. And it's not like first-time readers are going to know that it's Alleyn when he does show up. The best thing about the book is the way Marsh brings Maori culture and people into the story without making a major production of it.
Whilst it is undoubtedly a well-written and plotted novel, it certainly does take some time to a)get round to the corpse (and even that is only partial in the end) and b) for the disguised detective to tell us who has killed the vile Mr Questing.
A New Zealand spa, built around a set of natural hot mud pools, is practically within shouting distance of a Maori village. The village leader, an ancient and retired Member of Parliament, is an endearing character who helps us see the endearing side of the awkward Claire family who run the spa.
If I had not know going in that this was a murder mystery, I wouldn't have guessed it in the first half of the book. The only hint of mystery is the conviction of some members of the family that owns the spa that someone, perhaps their unpleasant guest Questing, is an enemy spy and gave information leading to the recent torpedoing of a ship nearby.
Marsh's first novel, A MAN LAY DEAD (1934), which she wrote in London in 1931-32, introduced the detective Inspector Roderick Alleyn: a combination of Sayers's Lord Peter Wimsey and a realistically depicted police official at work. Throughout the 1930s Marsh painted occasionally, wrote plays for local repertory societies in New Zealand, and published detective novels. All her novels feature British CID detective Roderick Alleyn.