Book Review: Death in Ecstasy by Ngaio Marsh

Posted July 22, 2022 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews / 0 Comments

Book Review: Death in Ecstasy by Ngaio Marsh

I received this book for free from my own shelves in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Death in Ecstasy by Ngaio Marsh
Genres: Mystery, British, Detective, Historical
Published by Felony & Mayhem Press on December 15, 2012
Pages: 275
Format: eBook
Source: my own shelves

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Also by this author: Dead Water, Killer Dolphin, A Man Lay Dead, Enter a Murderer, The Nursing Home Murder, Artists in Crime, Death in a White Tie

Fourth in the Inspector Roderick Alleyn vintage detective mystery series and revolving around Alleyn in the London of the 1930s. The focus is on the murder of Cara Quayne.

My Take

A little bit hypnotism, a whole lotta lavish theatricality, gods and goddesses, the Zodiac, and a touch of magic sets the scene in Death in Ecstasy. A tidy little scheme dreamt up by three men.

It’s secrets, money and worldly and rapturous desires that fuel the story, which we learn from Alleyn’s perspective in third person protagonist point-of-view. It gets more exciting with the dramas of jealousy, rapture, sex, and addiction.

It cracks me up AND makes me hope that we’re getting past that idea that Frenchmen are like this and Germans are like that and Italians are this. People everywhere are similar with the same desires, anger, frustrations, family issues, etc.

Inspector Alleyn states what every police novel does, that people are under a moral obligation to help the police. Of course, we don’t always know which cop has good morals, as there are so many who simply want to close the case even if they have the wrong person. And who knows which ones will “forgive” a “sin”, so I can understand why people may be frightened. Then of course, there’re the “personal” issues that people don’t like to reveal, as it “couldn’t possibly have anything to do with this crime”.

“The innocent are safe as long as they stick to the truth.”

Janey Jenkins is a bit of a nutjob. She’s so insistent about telling Alleyn the truth and then she has hysterics when she actually is asked to speak the truth. She’s rather typical of most of the characters. Nutty and inclined to lie.

It’s a good example of dialect, a fashion that has gone away today. In this case, today’s publishers want to tell you in the dialogue tags how the character is speaking.

Theme-wise, it’s the deception of cults, the greed, and all those lies as people try to protect themselves and others. As for prose, Marsh makes use of dialect to indicate social class, a really big deal in England to this day.

It is a bit slow, but then Alleyn has so much to investigate . . . and interview. I picked up the clues along the way, but Marsh has a bad habit of having Alleyn start to explain and then jump to the goodbyes among the group. I hate that, even if it is very effective, lol.

As is typical for a Roderick Alleyn tale, it’s mostly words without much action. It’s also a tricky case with so few clues, and I’m always impressed by how Alleyn figures it out.

The Story

When Cara Quayne dropped dead to the floor after drinking the ritual wine at the House of the Sacred Flame, she was having a religious experience of a sort unsuspected by the other initiates.

Discovering how the fatal prussic acid got into the bizarre group’s wine is but one of the perplexing riddles that confronts Scotland Yard’s Inspector Roderick Alleyn when he’s called to discover who sent this wealthy cult member to her untimely death.

The Characters

Chief Detective-Inspector Roderick Alleyn is with CID at Scotland Yard.

Scotland Yard
Alleyn’s team includes Inspector Fox, a.k.a. Brer Fox; Detective-Sergeant (DS) Bailey does fingerprints; Mrs Beken is the female officer; DS Watkins; and, Dr Curtis is the divisional surgeon. PC Allison is gigantic.

Sapineau is with the Sûreté.

Nigel Bathgate, a journalist, is a friend of Alleyn’s whom he constantly allows to horn in on cases. Angela, from A Man Lay Dead, 1, is his fianc&eacte;e,

The House of the Sacred Flame is . . .
. . . in Knocklatchers Row practically across the street from Bathgate’s digs and is the headquarters for a religious cult headed up by the Reverend Jasper Garnette, a.k.a. Odin, with his worldly desires. The redheaded Lionel “Eric” Smith and the black-haired Claude “Fauntleroy” Wheatley are his gay acolytes. The Chosen Vessel is always Frigga.

Congregants include old Miss Ernestine Wade (who worships Garnette); the American (he’s really Australian) Samuel J Ogden (who’s partnered up with Garnette) deals in gold extraction equipment and owns half of the Ogden-Schultz Gold Refining Company; the wealthy, unhappy, and unpopular Cara Quayne who has urges for exhibitionism; M Raoul Honoré Christophe Jérôme de Ravigne (and in love with Cara) had been a friend of Madame de Verne; Dr Nicholas Kasbek; Janey Jenkins, who is engaged to the excitable Maurice “Blot” Pringle; and, the jealous, lying Dagmar Candour.

Colonel Quayne of Elderbourne Manor in Seveanoaks was Cara’s father (killed playing polo in India. Her mother only lived a year longer then Edith took Cara to France). Madame de Verne, Cara’s maternal French aunt (who died when Cara was 17 and the Shatter was sold), raised Cara in the Shatter. The extremely religious Edith Hebborn has been with Cara Quayne since she was three years old. Wilson is a parlourmaid. The shrewd Rattisbon is Cara’s lawyer. Ethel Parker and May Simes were the latest witnesses of the will.

Mrs Candour’s staff includes Rita, a maid, and Mrs Bulsome, who is the cook. They’re not impressed with her. Seems no one is impressed with her. Ogden’s staff includes the very observant Elsie Prescott, the daughter of the janitor who valets and buttles, and her mother who cooks.

Madame la Comtesse de Barsac is Ravigne’s sister and a friend of Cara’s. The Theodore Roberts trial was in The Nursing Home Murder, 3. Stanley has a little brother. S.J. Samuels had been convicted of selling drugs in Australia.

The Cover and Title

The cover is consistent with previous covers only the primary color is mauve in a gradation that centers itself vertically as well as horizontally. The scalloped white lines ray out on angles from the bottom framing the mauve chalice against the deep brown-mauve background with the pale pink banner arching across the foot of the jeweled chalice with the series info in the deep mauve. The stretched-out banner is above the chalice in a pale mauve with the author’s name in its art deco font incorporating all the shades of mauve. The title is in the upper half in a pink to mauve gradation.

The title is true, for Cara experienced her Death in Ecstasy.

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