I just finished the excellent Artists in Crime by Ngaio Marsh. An artist's model is murdered and the studio of artists are the suspects, but the studio belongs to the beautiful painter Agatha Troy, Detective Roderick Alleyn's burgeoning object of affection. Alleyn has to discover the murderer while at the same time trying to not prove a completely insensitive police-type to Troy.
Alleyn goes on to marry Troy in later novels, but I enjoyed this story that chronicled their first meeting and what seemed like a rocky start to their relationship. I found this to be one of the most personal books about Alleyn as his mother is also a charming character. Marsh does a masterful job layering Alleyn's charm and personal relationships with the plot and solving of the murder.
Ngaio Marsh was not just a great crime writer, but also a painter and expert theatre director. The novels where she brings in her other interests become the most exciting. Her detail in the process of painting, and of course the absurd characters that tell of personal encounters, make this book strikingly unique.
Ngaio Marsh is deservedly one of the "Queens of Crime" along with Agatha Christie, Margery Allingham, and Dorothy Sayers. Detective fiction appears to be formulaic but in reality any weakness in a writer, be it plot, character, or style cannot be hidden. Marsh has an expert hand with the plot development of crime fiction, but what is really surprising is coming upon a passage of her stunning descriptions. The passages truly stop you in your tracks and make reading her novels so enjoyable even if you're not a fan of detective fiction.
*image found here