Friday, March 20, 2009

Friday's Forgotten Books:
Philip Bennion's Death by Richard Marsh (1897)

. . . I had wandered into a world of cross questions and crooked answers.
—Richard Marsh, Philip Bennion's Death 74
My latest selection in Patti Abbott's Forgotten Books series is Philip Bennion's Death by Richard Marsh, originally published as The Mystery of Philip Bennion's Death in 1897. Old Mr. Otway and his lifelong friend Philip Bennion sit up talking late one night about the art of murder, and Otway wakes the next morning to find Bennion dead. As a sleepwalker, Otway fears that he has killed his friend while unconscious (he also possesses a talent that many writers would envy: he notes, "I have written stories and dispatched them to editors while fast asleep, and they have been accepted and paid for" [5]). However, there is a packet of other suspects: the resentful servant; the wastrel nephew who inherits Bennion's estate; the beautiful ward whose engagement was opposed by Bennion and who was accused by Bennion of duplicity; and the fiance, who, with his financial success and hearty personality, appears to be the perfect catch, making Bennion's opposition baffling. A mysterious Italian cabinet bought for a song is presented as integral to the murder but Marsh skillfully walks the line between otherworldly premises and all too human motivations.

Richard Marsh (aka Richard Bernard Heldmann, 1857—1915) is best known for the supernatural novel The Beetle (1897), which rivaled another novel—Dracula—that year in popularity. His grandson was the horror writer Robert Aickman. In addition to Philip Bennion's Death, Valancourt Books has reprinted Marsh's Curios: Some Strange Adventures of Two Bachelors (1898) and The Datchet Diamonds (1898), as well as his collection of ghost stories, The Seen and the Unseen (1900).


pattinase (abbott) said...

Thanks so much, Beth.

Martin Edwards said...

Very interesting. I've read The Beetle, but hadn't heard of this one, and didn't know of the Aickman link.