Saturday, 29 September 2001

Ngaio Marsh: Death in Ecstasy (1938)

Edition: Fontana, 1962
Review number: 947

The fourth Alleyn novel is really the first which is typical of the series. It requires a certain suspension of disbelief, but is atmospheric and has an interesting puzzle.

The unbelievable happens at the beginning, as series character Nigel Bathgate decides to go to a cult ceremony for a little excitement, and just happens to witness a murder. It seems to be an inevitable problem with crime series, as non-professional direct involvement with violent death is rare, but having an innocent bystander around is useful for narrative purposes. Even where, as here, the investigator is a police officer, the device of having one of their friends innocently involved is common, because it brings a personal element to the case.

Once the hurdle of coincidence has been passed, Death in Ecstasy develops into a classic murder mystery, with generous helpings of the occult, jealousy and drugs. It has some dated touches, but in general is the first of Marsh's top class novels.

No comments: